State: We narrowly missed April 1 food stamp deadline

Georgia narrowly missed an April 1 deadline to clear thousands of backlogged food stamp cases, potentially bringing it closer to a federal threat to withdraw up to $76 million from the program.

State Human Services Commissioner Keith Horton said Friday morning that Georgia had 337 cases remaining when the deadline arrived to clear 30,000 high-priority cases.

“We did not make the benchmark,” Horton said during a news conference. “We hit 99 percent of it.”

The federal government pays for people’s food stamps, but it splits the cost of running the program with the state. Last month, federal officials cracked down on Georgia’s troubled system, demanding that backlogged cases be cleared and that the state craft long-term solutions.

Georgia food stamp officials are now awaiting the feds’ response to the missed April 1 deadline, and hoping for some forgiveness. Federal officials said in March that if the state did not comply with a series of demands that included the April 1 deadline, the state would receive a formal warning letter giving it 30 days to prove it is in compliance.

If the state does not fully resolve its entire backlog of cases by April 30, it could lose up to $76 million in funding as early as May 1.

Currently, the state’s backlog of food stamp cases has been reduced from about 65,000 in late February to about 5,500, though thousands of new applications arrive every week.

State officials say they are confident the state is making enough improvements in the system — including an intense overtime effort, hiring additional staff and revamping the application process — that it will satisfy the May 1 deadline.

The state is also requesting a federal waiver that would allow it to immediately approve 2,673 applications from some of the neediest Georgians.