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ACLU Says Latest Figures From State on Providing Food Stamp Benefits are “Jaw-Dropping”

Posted: November 20, 2017|Category: Active Case Discrimination Rights of the Poor Due Process

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After failing to provide court-ordered reports for August and September on the status of its efforts to ensure the timely provision of food stamp assistance to needy families, the state Department of Human Services has released a report for October, and the results, the ACLU stated today, are “jaw-dropping” and “demonstrate a continuing and unconscionable crisis affecting the state’s neediest families.” The report shows that some families waited more than a year before getting benefits to which they were entitled.

Under federal law, states participating in the food stamp program, known as SNAP, are required to process food stamp applications within thirty days of the date of application, and to provide expedited food stamps to eligible households within seven days. The federally funded program helps put food on the table of Rhode Island’s poorest residents, but since the implementation of the UHIP system, those deadlines have routinely not been met.  Under a court order issued in February in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), the state was supposed to have a 96% compliance rate by August in the timely processing of SNAP applications. However, the October figures provided by DHS in a misleadingly rosy manner – since they do not account for pending overdue applications not processed that month – show the timeliness rate hovering at only about 65%, meaning that, even optimistically, one out of every three applicants has still not been getting their applications processed on time.

Even worse, said the ACLU, is what the report shows at the granular level. In October, 57 families that obtained expedited benefits – which they should have received within seven days – had waited more than three months to get them. Twenty-one of those families waited more than six months for their benefits to kick in, and three families did not get their “expedited” food stamps until more than a year after they filed their application. Just as disquieting, 61 additional applications that were determined eligible for expedited service more than three months ago were still pending, as of the end of October, without the issuance of benefits. For twenty of those families, their applications had been in limbo for more than six months, and five had been waiting more than a year.

The figures are just as jarring for non-expedited (one month approval) applications. In October, 55 families had waited more than three months for their benefits to finally be granted, and 19 of those had their benefits delayed more than six months. Further, a total of 462 non-expedited applications were still awaiting a determination of eligibility after more than three months, and 101 of those had been on hold for more than six months, and 17 for more than one year.

While DHS has repeatedly cited progress in dealing with problems caused by the UHIP system, ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said today that “the fact that some applications remain pending, or are just getting resolved, after a year’s wait belies the state’s confidence and demonstrates the continued and enormous depth of the problem.”

Brown added: “When examined in depth, the figures from the state’s October report are jaw-dropping. They demonstrate a continuing and unconscionable crisis affecting the state’s neediest families. This is more than a UHIP problem. It is a failure by an agency charged with caring for the poor to take all the steps within its means to do so. The lack of urgency exhibited by DHS is shameful. The state was quick to castigate National Grid last month for taking more than three days to restore power in some areas hit by violent weather. Where is the outrage over letting needy families struggle for not days, but months, to put food on the table?”

Last month, the state revealed that thousands of additional UHIP program applications had not been processed, and earlier this month, the federal court appointed a special master in the ACLU’s suit to try address the ongoing problems with the SNAP processing delays.

When the suit was filed last December, the ACLU and NCLEJ argued that the “systematically inadequate and faulty statewide implementation” of UHIP was causing “thousands of households to suffer the imminent risk of ongoing hunger as a result of being denied desperately needed assistance to help them feed their families.” A year later, said Brown, “the suffering remains.”

The October 2017 report from DHS is available here:
http://riaclu.org/images/uploads/GemmelSpecialMasterAppendixDOctoberSNAPTimelinessReportOctober.pdf

Background on the lawsuit is available here:
http://riaclu.org/court-cases/case-details/gemmell-v.-affigne/

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