By Claire Stremple
Alaska Beacon 

State finally caught up on food stamp applications


March 20, 2024

The Alaska Division of Public Assistance said March 5 it has caught up on food stamp applications. That means no Alaskan is waiting an unlawful amount of time for food aid for the first time since 2022. But there are people waiting for other benefits programs, including heating assistance.

The state Division of Public Assistance worked to eliminate its most recent backlog of more than 12,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications in about four months, after struggling to stay current on applications for more than a year.

Division Director Deb Etheridge, who took on her role at the height of the backlog in 2023, said her dedicated backlog staff will now direct their attention to processing food stamp applications much faster — and catching up on slowdowns for other programs.

“Let’s keep those (food stamps) current and get those other ones brought up to date,” she said. “But this in no way amounts to the lift that we had with the SNAP program.”

The state’s Heating Assistance Program is designed to offset costs for Alaskans with low incomes. Nearly 2,000 applicants have been waiting more than a month for their application to be processed. Last year, the division processed about 6,000 total applications.

In the last benefit cycle, roughly 4,800 Alaska households benefited from the program, which is available only to those whose income is 150% of federal poverty guidelines. The state pays the benefit directly to the household’s fuel or energy supplier, as a credit.

Etheridge said this year, the application process was slowed down because of the effort to get food stamps back on track. She said the Division of Public Assistance may bring in seasonal employees next winter to help with the uptick in applications at that time and prevent slowdowns.

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


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