Georgia failed to pay food stamp benefits on time to tens of thousands of residents last month, according to newly released state public records.
In all, about 37% of applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), still commonly referred to as food stamps, were processed and paid out on time in May, public records show. The other 63%, or 46,234 applications, were delayed.
Georgia had about 1.6 million SNAP recipients for fiscal year 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The state Department of Human Services oversees the benefits program. On the DHS Facebook page, one SNAP recipient said they had applied to renew their benefits nearly two months ago, but haven’t had any food stamps since March.
“This really makes no sense,” the person wrote in May.
Delays with SNAP assistance are not new in Georgia. According to DHS, the state has seen an overall increased demand for food assistance at a time when there are fewer workers to process applications — whether for existing recipients or new ones. For months, DHS pushed the federal government to waive some administrative requirements, in an attempt to speed up the process.
“We are working as quickly as possible to get all applications/renewals processed, and are actively hiring to fill positions so we can serve our clients more expeditiously, but we are also being hampered by federal rules and requirements, which prevent us from streamlining this process,” said Kylie Winton, a spokesperson with DHS.
So far, the federal government has approved three waivers the department has asked for, but four are still under consideration.
The waivers still under consideration would allow DHS to automate some application processes and help ease the ongoing workforce shortage, according to DHS. Senior leadership has met with federal regulators, Winton said, and are only asking for the same flexibility they’ve been granted for other benefits programs.
Some of the waiver requests have been pending for a year, according to DHS.
Earlier this spring, DHS Commissioner Candice Broce wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that “we urge swift federal approval of these time sensitive flexibilities, which are necessary to best serve vulnerable Georgians in every region of our state.”
Applications for food stamps are supposed to be processed within 30 days, or sometimes less, according to federal requirements. One recipient on Facebook said in May that she had been waiting since April 2nd for her benefits.
“Y’all can’t even do people’s SNAP renewals on time,” the person wrote. “Everytime I finally get a hold of someone they keep saying they are behind, give it a few more days and call back. I thought they only had 30 days from the day they receive your renewal to process them.”
The delays in SNAP benefits come as thousands of Georgians who depended on Medicaid for health insurance are in jeopardy of losing coverage, after federal pandemic protections lapsed. During the pandemic, Medicaid rolls swelled around the nation as the country suspended the usual requirements for recipients to periodically requalify for the program.
Federal and nonprofit experts have predicted that large numbers of Medicaid beneficiaries could lose coverage starting this month.