State misses food assistance payments to countless Georgians

State officials say they will clear the backlog by Thanksgiving

State officials are pledging to clear a massive backlog of food assistance applications by Thanksgiving, as Georgians who rely on the benefits say the state is failing to pay them on time.

In interviews and comments online, Georgians who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program say that the state hasn’t paid their food stamps in recent weeks and in some cases, months. The Department of Human Services says they are now paying out what people are owed in bulk sums, after the federal government gave them emergency approval to temporarily skip a step that is usually mandatory, for people who have completed the paperwork for renewals from August to October.

The Department of Human Services’ social media pages have been flooded with complaints from Georgians who are desperate to know when their food assistance is going to come through. When DHS posted an update that the lagged benefits will come through this week, many Facebook users said they hoped it was true.

“All we can do is pray at this point,” one poster said. “Lord knows some of us are out here on [our] last meal and dime, and there’s nothing been done about it.”

DHS spokesperson Kylie Winton said SNAP recipients should expect to receive food stamp payments before Thanksgiving for this month, as well as any month that may have been missed. Deloitte, the vendor for the state, is projecting that recipients will be paid by the holiday, Winton said.

Winton said inflation and workforce shortages caused an increase in SNAP applications and renewals, causing the backlog in approvals. She said the agency was unable to say how many applications have been delayed in recent months.

She said the federal government last Friday approved a request from Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, the agency that administers SNAP benefits, to extend the eligibility of those who have renewals pending with the state for six months. DHS couldn’t provide an exact number of Georgians who receive food assistance. As of June, more than 900,000 households were receiving SNAP benefits, averaging $336 a month, according to the state’s website.

“Our vendor that administers the ... portal will work through the weekend to make the appropriate system updates to trigger benefits for these customers before the Thanksgiving holiday,” Winton said Friday.

Those payments are expected to be distributed this week.

Kathy Islar, 60, said in an interview that she hasn’t gotten her food stamps in two months.

As of this week she was told she is completely cut off from food stamps, because she did not submit the proper paperwork. She says she dropped off her papers in person before the deadline. Now her case is closed.

Islar, who is diabetic, said she can’t afford to buy the necessary healthy groceries out of pocket. She lives on a fixed income in Statesboro, and is now trying to make trips to food banks. But she said she doesn’t always have a way to get there.

“It’s hard, it is so hard,” she said. “You sit here and fight your tears and pain because you don’t know when you’re going to get something decent to eat.”

Jovi Iovine and his wife rely on $800 a month from a paycheck and food stamps as a way to feed their two children. He tried to renew food stamps last month, and so far he’s received no indication that the renewal will go through. Iovine, whose family lives in Nashville, Ga. is fearful that they will have to forgo food for the holidays.

“I don’t think it’s fair to my kids to not have Thanksgiving,” said Iovine, who is 37. “We’re okay, right this second. But within a week, there’ll be nothing left for the kids.”

Iovine said his family has called five different phone numbers in the past week and couldn’t get any answers. Then on Monday, the family spoke to a worker at the local DFCS office who said they would be getting the money before the Thursday holiday. As of Tuesday morning, they still hadn’t been paid.

“We were figuring it out because we’ve been doing so much research. We’ve been trying to get a hold of anybody that works for SNAP services to help us,” he said. “And we’ve been trying for over a week.”

At the state level, DHS is offering overtime for staff to make sure these applications are processed. Winton also said that recipients should keep submitting the appropriate paperwork on time, so that they can clear the backlog before the federal government extension expires.

Moving forward, Winton said that the department will work with the federal government to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“We continue to explore ways to secure more flexibility from the federal government to process cases more quickly and efficiently,” Winton said.