DHHS: Backlog of food stamps due to staffing issues

BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In Maine many families rely on food stamps to supplement their incomes, but over the last few months some families have been facing delays to receive their benefits. The Department of Health and Human Services points to a combination of staffing issues, outdated filing systems, and an increase in eligibility checks as the reason for this set back. The recipients are looking to local food pantries and soup kitchens to help them get by, but those organizations are already stretched thin.

Case manager Terrie Haggey with Allies, Inc said, "I talked to DHHS and they said 'Yes, we are having a lot of processing issues and we are referring people to the food pantries.' Well the food pantries can't make up for what they get from food stamps. Food pantries are doing the best they can and help as many people as they can, but they provide maybe a couple days to a weeks worth of food."

Haggey was first alerted to the issue two months ago when a client came in wondering where his benefits were and unable to figure out when they would arrive.

"They actually couldn't give us a time frame and he had no food stamps and he had no food in the house. So I took him to the Salvation Army to get emergency food," said Haggey.

The Salvation Army in Bangor continues to see an increase in need. They help about 150 families a month and serve between 125 to 150 hot meals a day.

Thea Day the Director of Social Services said, "Having to wait an extended period of time to get what they qualify to receive for a basic need such as food will definitely have an impact on everything that they do during the days."

According to DHHS, the hold up is mostly affecting recipients up for their annual review. The reviews cause employees to confirm those receiving the benefits still qualify. A task other states dedicate a whole unit to in order to expedite these applications.

"I think more money needs to be put into more priority of making sure the staff is there so that these tasks can get done," said Haggey.

At this point DHHS does not know how many people are affected by the delay. All recipients, however, will receive their full benefit amount.

To stop this from happening in the future DHHS will be moving to a new filing system which is all digital, but that will not be ready until the first of the year.


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