Illinois unemployment benefits, higher during coronavirus pandemic, may effect eligibility for SNAP food stamp benefits

CHICAGO (WLS) -- State unemployment benefits, along with extra federal money, are helping millions of people make ends meet right now. But the ABC 7 I-Team found that some benefits may disqualify you from another much needed food assistance program.

Illinois state leaders confirmed that unemployment benefits can affect your eligibility to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"When they cut them off it was just kind of a slap in the face," Elizabeth Rivera said.

She depends on SNAP to feed her family, but she recently got a letter from the state of Illinois saying her SNAP benefits would stop because her household income was "above the amount allowed."

"Losing those SNAP benefits is a huge hit, it really is," said Rivera.

She said she received the cut off notice not because of on-the-job income, but because of her much-needed unemployment benefits.

"Right now, it's barely making it through the month," she said.

Rivera started collecting state benefits before the COVID-19 pandemic, after being laid off from a software company. Then, like everyone else who qualified for state unemployment, extra federal CARES Act money kicked in during the pandemic. After that extra money started coming in, that SNAP denial letter arrived.

"The benefits you get from unemployment, even with the added $600, it is very rarely enough to cover everything I am responsible for, including my daughter's medical bills," Rivera said.

Now she's left to choose whether to pay those bills or put food on the table.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which runs SNAP, said federal pandemic unemployment money under the CARES Act is considered unearned income when determining a household's SNAP eligibility.

The I-Team also asked the Illinois Department of Human Services, the department which is in charge of SNAP at the state level, why they sent Rivera that denial letter.

All the state would say is that unemployment benefits do effect state eligibility requirements and would not give details on Rivera's case.
"They don't take into account every bill that every household has to pay. So basically it's like saying you're making a little bit more because of this extra stimulus, so you can't have those food benefits any longer," said Rivera. "That just puts a family in a place where, ok well do I pay the electric bill or do I buy my food?"

A spokesperson from the State of Illinois said someone will reach out to Rivera to help her see if there are other benefits she is eligible to receive.

"With all the stress of very few jobs out there right this moment, and the added stress of the bills and things like that, it's just one more concern that really doesn't need to be added," Rivera said.

Federal and state officials say if someone is disqualified for SNAP because of any extra income they can re-apply after those unemployment benefits run out. The state has a helpline and website if you need food or medical help.

Illinois Department of Human Services: Customer Help Line: 1-800-843-6154 1-866-324-5553 TTY

Use the Customer Help Line for questions about case status, benefits, services or eligibility. Staff are available 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday except state holidays to answer your questions. An automated response is available after hours.
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