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Food stamps are backlogged for 12,000 Alaskans under SNAP

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Food stamps are backlogged for 12,000 Alaskans under SNAP

Food stamps are backlogged for 12,000 Alaskans under SNAP. A significant backlog in Alaska’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has resulted in over 12,000 applicants waiting for their benefits, some dating back to July.

Causes of the Backlog

The backlog, causing delays of months, has been attributed to various factors, as explained by Deb Etheridge, the state’s director of public assistance:

  • Weather-related Office Closures: Poor weather conditions led to temporary office closures.
  • Staffing Shortages: Insufficient staffing has contributed to the delay in processing applications.
  • Computer System Upgrades: Ongoing upgrades to the computer system have also played a role.

Federal Requirement Complication

Etheridge pointed out that the most significant impediment is the reinstated federal requirement, effective since October, mandating interviews for every SNAP application or recertification. Previously, each application took approximately an hour to process, but with mandatory interviews, the processing time has nearly doubled.

Impact on Processing Capacity

The reinstated interview requirement has significantly impacted the processing capacity, reducing the number of cases processed daily from over 100 to sometimes less than 70.

Over 10% Affected

The issue affects more than 10% of the state’s 92,000 SNAP recipients, partially stemming from efforts to recover from an earlier slowdown that caused unprecedented wait times of 11 months.

Mitigation Efforts

To address the backlog, Etheridge’s department has taken several measures:

  • Interview Pause: Interviews are temporarily halted to alleviate the backlog.
  • Collaboration with Federal Officials: Working closely with federal officials to explore alternative solutions and streamline the process.
  • Contractor Collaboration: Engaging an outside contractor, the Change and Innovation Agency, to enhance workflow and expedite processing.
  • Workforce Enhancements: Making more workers eligible for overtime and outsourcing some Medicaid processing to contractors.
  • Online Application Enhancement: Introducing a new online application later this month to improve efficiency.

Applicant Profile and Division Challenges

Etheridge revealed that approximately 95% of applicants in the backlog also applied for other assistance programs. Despite facing challenges, Etheridge division is actively seeking solutions, with nearly 50 openings for eligibility technicians processing SNAP and other state assistance programs.

In Etheridge words, “Our team is doing the best we can to innovate and find solutions in this unfortunate situation.”

Conclusion

Alaska SNAP backlog, exacerbated by reinstated federal requirements and various challenges, underscores the critical need for streamlined processes. Efforts to pause interviews, collaborate with federal officials, and implement online enhancements signal a commitment to resolving the issue and aiding affected Alaskans.

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