Wrangell Sentinel -

By Lisa Phu
Alaska Beacon 

State sued over monthslong delays in issuing food stamps

 

January 25, 2023



Ten Alaskans are suing the state, saying it failed to provide food stamps within the time frames required by federal law.

The complaint, filed Jan. 20 in Superior Court in Anchorage, said the state had failed to provide needed services and “has subjected thousands of Alaskans to ongoing hunger and continues to do so.”

Some families have waited four months to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, the complaint alleged.

“We’ve got people who are relying on family members. We’ve got people who are relying on food pantries. We’ve got people who are eating less so they can feed their kids, trying to juggle their bills and decide whether they’re going to pay for their heat or their groceries,” said Saima Akhtar, senior attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

“People are taking as many different avenues as they can to take care of their families and eat right now, and it shouldn’t be that hard,” Akhtar said.

The complaint asserted the delay is due to the “immense delays and chaos of the Alaska Department of Health,” and pointed to the unresolved “massive backlog of unprocessed SNAP cases that has left thousands of Alaskans without critical food assistance in the coldest months of the year.”

While 10 Alaskans are named in the class-action suit — residents from Anchorage, Marshall, Petersburg, Wasilla, Bethel, Palmer, Nome and Delta Junction — they represent thousands of other Alaskans who are facing the same issue.

Under federal law, the Department of Health must provide ongoing SNAP benefits to eligible applicants no later than 30 days after the date of application. Households that qualify for expedited processing are required to get their benefits within seven days of the application being filed. Some families have been waiting months, the complaint said.

The suit wants the court to order the Department of Health to process people’s SNAP applications and recertifications within the timeframe required by federal law, to allow people to apply and seek benefits on the first day they contact the agency, and to ensure that there are adequate language interpretation services and translations of documents for those who need it.

Essentially, Akhtar said, the injunctive relief is asking the state to “do the things that they are legally obligated to in operating the program within the federal guidelines.”

The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages.

“They want to get fed,” Akhtar said. “And they also have the opportunity to try and influence the system so that this is not happening again, so that their siblings and their children and communities aren’t going hungry, too.”

The chair of the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, Wasilla Sen. David Wilson, said his committee will hear from the Department of Health about the food stamp application backlog during a hearing this week.

“We want to know, basically, what can we do in the Legislature to help you fix this problem and how fast can it be fixed and resolved? And those are the issues that I want to focus on,” Wilson said.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.

 

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