AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

School and business closures due to the global pandemic have made it more difficult for many Arizonans to keep up with their bills. The state is trying to help. 

With the continual threat to essential resources at this critical time, the governor’s office is working to help more families in need get access to food by expanding access to federal programs. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey said the state has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition Services to allow more people to sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Changes would include allowing the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) to approve applications without eligibility interviews, allowing recipients to buy prepared and hot foods from grocery stores, and waiving work requirements for students.

The state is also asking that those who qualify receive the maximum amount of benefits allowed for up to two months and extending certification periods to 90 days.

”These changes will support Arizonans in getting the benefits they need as quickly as possible,” Interim DES Director Tom Betlach said in a press release. “At the same time, we are protecting SNAP applicants, eligible families, and staff by easing administrative burdens and minimizing face-to-face contact to the greatest extent possible.”

Arizonans can find links to apply for food assistance and other resources here

Ducey also announced Wednesday that as a result of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Donald Trump signed last week, Arizona will receive $5.3 million to provide seniors with meals.

The money from the Department of Health and Human Services will help fund meal delivery programs as well as programs that work with senior centers.

“These dollars will help Arizona keep our seniors safe and healthy at a critical time,” Ducey said in a press release.

Access to Health Care

Ducey continued his list of announcements Wednesday with an executive order aimed at insurance providers. The order requires health insurance companies to expand coverage for all services relating to in-person visits to include telemedicine appointments. This means insurers are barred from charging more for a virtual visit than an in-person one.

“This order will ensure that Arizonans can access care without having to leave home while freeing up much needed capacity for our health care providers and hospitals,” Ducey said in a press release. “It’s commonsense and helps ensure our most vulnerable continue to have access to care in a way that protects them and public health.”

On Tuesday, Ducey’s office announced it had received federal approval to waive some requirements for its Medicaid and KidsCare programs, thus expanding access for Arizona families. 

Changes include allowing out-of-state providers to provide care for enrollees, waiving provider enrollment fees, and suspending certain requirements for people looking to enter a nursing facility. 

“There is no greater priority than the health and safety of Arizonans,” the governor said in a press release. “Working with our federal partners, Arizona is increasing flexibility for healthcare providers and ensuring access to health care for our state’s most vulnerable populations during this unprecedented national emergency.”

Arizonans can apply for benefits here.

Access to Child Care

On Tuesday, state officials announced that starting next week, certain workers will be able to receive free child care while schools are shut down until at least April 10 due to the coronavirus. 

Those who qualify include first responders, healthcare workers, and public sector employees deemed “essential.”

Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said the child care locations, called Arizona Enrichment Centers, will follow guidance from federal, state, and local officials when it comes to fighting the spread of COVID-19. 

Children and staff will have their temperatures taken upon arrival each day. Kids will be dispersed into small groups so no room becomes overcrowded – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting groups to 10 people or fewer. 

“This is just another way that our schools are stepping up to support our students and families right now,” Hoffman said in a press release. “I’m grateful to the continued leadership from our school leaders, who are going above and beyond to provide critical services like meals, distance learning, social-emotional support and more to our students.”

According to the governor’s office, more information on how to participate in the program will be coming this week. Anyone with “pressing questions” can email AZEnrichmentCenters@az.gov.

Banner Health is also helping its employees pay for child care with its Supporting Our Staff fund. Charitable donations cover child care costs and help workers with other financial hardships that may arise due to income lost from having to stay home during the public health emergency.

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