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Julia_kehoe By DTA Commissioner Julia Kehoe

On June 1, several tornadoes and severe thunderstorms devastated communities in Central and Western Massachusetts and left thousands of residents and businesses without power, surrounded by destroyed property, and homeless. Immediately after the storms, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) took the lead in establishing three Storm Assistance Centers in Monson/Palmer, Southbridge, and Springfield.  These centers, open seven days a week, provided a variety of services, such as food assistance, housing, unemployment assistance, and mental health services.  More than 5,000 households received assistance at these centers through June 16.

On June 15, President Obama declared a federal emergency in Hampden and Worcester Counties.  As a result of this declaration, DTA could administer Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP), a one-time food assistance benefit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is provided through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.  These cards can be used in the same manner as a debit or ATM card to purchase food at a supermarket, grocer, or farmers’ market that accepts SNAP. 

To administer D-SNAP as quickly as possible, DTA transformed the three Storm Assistance Centers into Disaster SNAP sites, and added a second D-SNAP location in Springfield.  Working from tents pitched in the parking lots of the storm centers, DTA staff assisted more than 16,000 households in just seven days.

At all of the sites, I witnessed unparalleled teamwork and incredibly compassionate customer service.  Despite working nights and weekends for several weeks, DTA staff were energized and fully committed to assisting individuals and families affected by the storms.  Specifically, I would like to thank all of the Transitional Assistance Office (TAO) Directors and Assistant Directors; the Supervisors, Case Managers, Clerks and Human Service Assistants who worked on the front lines; the Regional Directors; Assistant Commissioners; and Deputy Commissioners. 

I would also like to thank all of the staff in the TAOs and Central Office Units who offered critical support throughout the D-SNAP effort, notably the Holyoke, Greenfield, Lowell, North Shore, Plymouth, Taunton and Worcester TAOs as well as Administration and Finance; Field Operations; Legal Division; Management Information Systems (MIS); Policy, Programs and External Relations (PPER); and Program Integrity.  The entire DTA staff across the Commonwealth worked together to ensure efficient and expedient intake and processing of D-SNAP.

I have always been impressed and humbled by my colleagues’ dedication.  They work every day to serve more than 810,000 people across the state – one out of every eight Massachusetts residents.  Their response to the storms has been truly remarkable.  DTA staff demonstrated incredible energy, grace, and compassion in the aftermath of the tornadoes and truly went above and beyond the call of duty to assist thousands of people in dire need. 

The last day the Department could accept Disaster SNAP applications was Friday, June 24.  Anyone seeking assistance regarding his or her pending application should call the DTA Hotline at 1-800-445-6604.

 

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