Thursday, November 18, 2010

State sued for food stamp delays

From KHON Channel 2, by Jai Cunningham.

A non-profit law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against the state alleging the department of human services doesn't deliver food stamps to those in need on a timely basis. The group says the problem is getting worse. According to Lawyers for Equal Justice, nearly 140,000 people in Hawaii are on food stamps. They say many of the newest to qualify for food stamps aren't getting their applications processed in a timely manner.

"Talked to people who have families that have gone more than ninety days without receiving food stamps, again they should receive them in a thirty day period,” said Victor Geminiani of Lawyers for Equal Justice. Geminiani also cites retirements and a reduction of staff at the Human Services Department for adding to the processing problem. "There are two components of a plan to improve the situation. The first would be to staff up the units that are responsible for going through the eligibility applications for food stamps,” said Geminiani. And he says the other is to update an old system.

"For example there is no online application process available in the state, where as that has been a process that is rather common in many other states.” And the problem is statewide. The center says from October of last year to February of this year things have gotten noticeably worse. On Oahu the percentage of food stamp qualifiers not getting their applications processed within the first thirty days increased from more than ten percent to 15 percent. Kona from more than 20 to more than 38 percent and on Maui the rate increased from more than 47 percent to over 50 percent.

“The applications that are filed in Maui are not done in a timely, not resolved in a timely basis. Application decisions are not made within the thirty days required by federal law,” said Geminiani.

The lawsuit requests that the court make the state implement a corrective action plan. The state Department of Human Services says it has not seen the lawsuit, and could not comment on the specifics. But the director says the department has been working to streamline benefits processing but points out that their major project to modernize was stalled by the legislature last year.

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