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Ask Mike: Courant reporter will help connect you to the resources and services you need during the coronavirus crisis

Ask Mike Graphic

These are difficult times for all of us. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted basic services so many people rely on. And while many people and organizations have stepped up to help, we know many of you are not sure where to turn.

Over the next few months, Courant reporter Mike Hamad will field your questions and will work to connect you with the people who can help.

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To reach Mike, please fill out the form below and he will be in touch.

You can also email mhamad@courant.com.

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Are there any resources Mike can help connect you to?

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Highland Park Market employee Mark Beebe makes a home delivery Monday.
Highland Park Market employee Mark Beebe makes a home delivery Monday. (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)

Question: I have an elderly friend who purchases food using her SNAP card. She is quite health-compromised and does not want to go out, but needs more food. Is there any way that her SNAP card can be used for grocery delivery? Or someone else shop for her with her card?

The arrival of COVID-19 ushered in a host of new food insecurity issues, from a flood of new applicants seeking SNAP benefits (often referred to as food stamps) to elderly folks not wanting to risk a trip to the grocery store.

Some good news: as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Department of Social Services (DSS) has waived interviews for many new households applying for SNAP between March 1 and May 31, requiring only completed application forms, identity verification, proof of income or job loss and a few other factors.

Additionally, on April 9, nearly 97,000 households enrolled in SNAP received the maximum food benefit allowed for their household size, even if that’s not usually the case. A second benefit payment arrived April 20.

Carol Dziekan of Sprague donated a digital thermometer to someone in Norwalk.
Carol Dziekan of Sprague donated a digital thermometer to someone in Norwalk.

Question: I do not have a thermometer and I cannot find a store that has any thermometers in stock. They are not available to order online either apparently. Is there any place that you know of in Fairfield County that can sell me a thermometer in the next couple of days?

It’s true: oral thermometers are difficult to track down these days.

Through a post in the Courant’s Facebook group, Connecticut Coronavirus Updates, we found Carol Dziekan, a woman in Sprague who was willing to donate a digital thermometer to Charles LeSchack of Norwalk.

The thermometer was initially purchased for Dziekan’s daughter, who took it to college and brought it home, unused, when school was suspended.

Sprague is in Eastern Connecticut, close to the Rhode Island border. Norwalk is 1.5 hours southwest along the coastline.

Like you, I’d been stuck in my house for weeks, so I decided to deliver it myself. My car needed to be driven anyway.

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FILE- This Feb. 13, 2019, file photo shows multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns in Zelienople, Pa. The majority of individual taxpayers in the U.S. are eligible to file their taxes for free, yet many may be unaware or confused by how to do so.   Improvements have been made and Free File should be easier to use in 2020. But, with tax season getting into full gear, users should be aware of the details of the service and alternatives. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
FILE- This Feb. 13, 2019, file photo shows multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns in Zelienople, Pa. The majority of individual taxpayers in the U.S. are eligible to file their taxes for free, yet many may be unaware or confused by how to do so.   Improvements have been made and Free File should be easier to use in 2020. But, with tax season getting into full gear, users should be aware of the details of the service and alternatives. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File) (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Question: I was scheduled to have my taxes done through VITA, a free tax service for low-income people. My appointment was canceled indefinitely because of the coronavirus. Would you happen to know anywhere or anyone who can do this for me now?

With the arrival of the COVID-19 outbreak, both VITA and AARP tax preparation services have been suspended, even though the federal and state filing deadlines were pushed back to July 15.

Sara Spodick, director of the Tax Clinic at Quinnipiac University, and Lisa Perkins, clinical professor of law and director of the UConn Law Tax Clinic, say the best thing to do file your own returns using the IRS Free File portal, especially for simple returns.

Spodick and Perkins spoke to the Courant about the current state of VITA and other issues facing taxpayers under trying circumstances.

Recent Questions

Question: Questions on safety issues. Technicians coming in the home. For example, having the furnace cleaned. Another issue, having my car serviced, when the technician has to take it for a test run. Thank you for your time and input on these, not so basic issues, in our world today.

Mike’s Answer: Here’s a link to the CDC’s guidelines on Daily Life and Coping, which has links to topics including limiting your exposure while running errands:https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/index.html

There’s nothing specific about the situations you mentioned, but perhaps you can gleam from the guidelines what you need to know.

It might also be worth contacting your primary care physician for general information about you and your family’s risk in these situations.

Question: I was wondering if you knew the government website for people who have not filed income tax but need to receive the stimulus pay.

Mike’s Answer: I believe this might be the portal you’re looking for: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here

There’s a blue button that says “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here” if you scroll down a little.

Hope that helps!

Question: Are any stores accepting returnable cans and plastic bottles? I like to recycle and get deposits if possible.

Mike’s Answer: I know West Hartford Redemption Center (https://westhartfordredemption.com/) is open for business.

Question: Where can I purchase masks and gloves, needed for myself and family?

Mike’s Answer: There’s a group of maskmakers in the Farmington Valley. Here is their website; you can click on REQUEST MASKS to put in a request, and you can donate money to their efforts.

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(Of course, the Courant can’t vouch for the effectiveness of those masks in protecting against the coronavirus.)

Question: How do I go about getting food stamps?

Mike’s Answer: Here’s the website for information on how to apply:

End Hunger Connecticut also has a call center to assist with the process: 866-974-SNAP (7627)

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