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Millions Await Food Stamp Approvals, States Pushed to Accelerate Process

Alaska’s Food Aid Crisis Deepens Amidst Backlog

USDA Warns States Over SNAP Application Backlogs

According to The Columbian, Alaska faces a pressing issue with the high cost of groceries particularly affecting rural communities where many residents rely on food stamp to afford basic necessities. The delay in processing residents’ requests for food stamp has exacerbated the situation plunging entire communities into disarray. Rachael Miller, from the Food Bank of Alaska, notes the increased demand at food pantries and soup kitchens reflecting the strain on the system due to the backlog in food stamp applications since 2022. At one point, over 15,000 Alaskans found themselves waiting for their claims to be processed highlighting the severity of the crisis.

Despite efforts from state leaders to address the issue by investing millions in hiring additional caseworkers and upgrading technology systems, Alaska still grapples with a backlog of 2,000 households awaiting food stamp approval. The ongoing struggle underscores the urgency for efficient processing of food stamp applications to ensure timely support for residents in need and to alleviate the burden on food banks and community organizations striving to meet the surging demand for assistance.

Many states in the United States are struggling to handle applications for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent letters to 32 states and two territories warning them that they’re taking too long to process SNAP applications. According to USDA guidelines, 95% of applications should be processed within 30 days but many states are not meeting this goal. This is partly due to a lack of staff at social service agencies that handle these programs. Additionally, the end of emergency measures from the pandemic which made it easier to apply for SNAP has also added to the delays.

(PHOTO: Millions Await Food Stamp Approvals, States Pushed to Accelerate Process)

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USDA’s Warning Letters and State Responses Prompt Urgent Action on SNAP Backlogs

The USDA has issued warning letters to 44 states, the District of Columbia and two territories citing concerns over payment accuracy and errors in SNAP program evaluations. States are addressing the issue by increasing funding for staffing and implementing new technologies for streamlined processing. Stacy Dean, a senior USDA official, emphasized the letters’ intent to prompt action from governors to resolve the backlog in SNAP applications.

Federal officials express confidence that states will address delays in processing SNAP applications with many states hiring more caseworkers and upgrading processing systems. However, food security advocates attribute these struggles to long-term disinvestment. In Alaska, a backlog arose due to misunderstandings of federal policy compounded by a cyberattack and outdated computer systems. The state has taken measures such as reassigning staff implementing an online application system and allocating funds for computer upgrades. Governor Mike Dunleavy seeks additional funding to hire more staff and expedite processing including suspending follow-up interviews to accelerate claims.

The USDA threatens to withdraw funding for Alaska’s SNAP program administrative costs if it doesn’t comply with interview requirements reinstated after the pandemic. The state is in talks with federal authorities to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, 10 Alaskans are suing the state for delayed benefits seeking to enforce federal deadlines and improve access for non-English speakers. Lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel are proposing legislation to expand SNAP eligibility criteria, streamlining verification processes to alleviate bureaucratic burdens and reduce cycles of poverty.

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