Need food stamps in NYC? We’ll be back in a few days…

Counties across the state are past legal deadlines to process SNAP applications, leaving families struggling to feed. Delays can get even worse.

Alex Ruben 15 May 2023

orange county, new yoke — Alma Garcia, 31, a mother of five in Middletown, couldn’t afford to take a taxi across the county from one utility to another. called.

Garcia applied for food stamp renewal in October last year. The local social services office lost her paperwork and told her to go to another office. Her case was then closed and she was asked to file a new application. She then transferred her to her new caseworker.

Five months passed before the agency finally approved her new application, but they couldn’t make up for lost time. She was in debt all fall and winter to pay for her groceries, and the resulting pile of debt could not have been at a worse time. Her boss retired last year, so she lost her longtime job as a receptionist at a dental office.

“Where can I buy food for the children?” she asked. Her youngest is 3 years old.

Across the state, tens of thousands of New Yorkers have applied for federal supplemental nutritional assistance programs (snap), commonly known as food stamps, has violated federal law by delaying payments by more than 30 days, according to documents obtained by the New York Focus.

And the backlog could get worse as pandemic-era policies to streamline the benefit application process expire.

New York City is currently facing lawsuits over its urban planning. Soaring Latency. However, the problem is statewide and has received little attention, partly because its extent was previously unknown.

In December, the most recent month for which the New York Focus has data, the state’s 57 county social services offices outside of New York City illegally processed more than 11,000 food stamp claims. Delayed, which corresponds to one in three pending applications.

that’s just average. In Orange County, where Garcia applied, more than half of applicants are still waiting past 30 days. In neighboring Rockland County, the situation is not as good. (These two counties are also areas that New York City Mayor Eric Adams wants to serve.) Hundreds of asylum seekers. )

The dramatic difference in performance between counties reflects in part the fact that each county manages its own social services. Experts say New York’s decentralized model, shared only by nine other states, is one of the root causes of the delay.

And it aggravates what caseworkers say is the number one reason why they struggle to stay on the job. A shortage of caseworkers and a severe staffing shortage are fueling overwork and burnout.

“Over the past year, I’ve still been in oversight meetings and haven’t had anyone break down crying,” one social services worker told New York, requesting anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the press. concentration. “And we’re talking tough birds, people who’ve been working here for 20-odd years.”

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In early March, New York Focus visited the Orange County Benefits Office in Goshen, where Garcia applied for benefits. In a drab waiting room, through metal detectors, under dim overhead lighting, people waited in plastic chairs, most of them at least 30 minutes. About a dozen people passed the office over the course of two hours on Friday afternoon. Some people drove 50 miles to get there. Many people were absent from work because the office was only open during business hours on weekdays.

A gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed hat and cowboy boots was one of several people who said they experienced significant delays in processing their food stamp applications. He only spoke Spanish. His 14-year-old daughter dealt with county officials on his behalf. He waited more than 30 days before he was approved for the benefit, but he said he had not received it yet. pin number he needs to use EBT A card on which rewards are paid.

A sign pinned to a corkboard reads, snap Applications must be approved or denied within 30 days.

When Garcia applied last October, 1,910 applicants were awaiting a decision from the Orange County Department of Social Services. By the end of the month, his two-thirds of those, 1,242, were waiting beyond his statutory 30 days.

Just south along the Hudson River, Rockland County Social Services missed its deadline for 53 percent of its open applications that month. In Bloom County, where Binghamton is located, the figure was 45%.

What caused the delay?

Social services agencies and state Temporary Disability Assistance Offices (OTDA), but noted a spike in filings during the pandemic. In Orange County, the number of infected people has doubled or tripled. snap County spokesman Justin Rodriguez said he’s been inundated with applications even as staffing levels have declined since the pandemic began.

“We naturally expected more applications during the pandemic,” a caseworker told New York Focus. “What we weren’t ready for was more people leaving for better jobs.”

OTDA Spokesman Anthony Farmer also pointed to the challenges of the pandemic. He said state officials are “committed to working with these counties to help improve the timeliness of case processing,” but did not elaborate on what specifically they would help with. did not reveal.

but 3 years later COVID-19 Hitting New York first, delays didn’t improve. And experts say the pandemic-era surge reveals a deeper problem.

Most states have a central office that manages all information. snap program. New York is one of 10 outlier states that outsources work, including evaluating applications, to county officials. County-run models have higher costs and error rates, Research has shown.

Part of the reason is that decentralization makes it harder to hold counties accountable through state or external lawsuits, and even harder to track county performance in New York State.Of the 10 decentralized states, New York one of only two As such, county-level performance data is not easily accessible. snap Processed data is not disclosed outside of New York City. County-level information is compiled by decades-old computer systems working with nearly extinct programming languages. New York Focus received this information in an almost cryptic fashion through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A decentralized model also exacerbates the staffing problem. If benefits are centrally coordinated, temporary vacancies in one office, for example as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic or unexpected retirements, can be filled from other offices across the state. You can. “That just doesn’t apply here,” said Saima Akhtar, a senior staff attorney at the National Center for Legal and Economic Justice whose work focuses on the public interest.

go To obtain bad Before that acquisition Better

The pandemic has spurred an expansion of federal aid. Anyone eligible for food stamps automatically received the maximum benefits, no interview was required, and in some counties applicants were not required to recertify for benefits. These provisions have encouraged more people to apply for benefits, but have also streamlined the process for each case. All of these provisions recently expired.

“We acknowledged that people really need health insurance and they really need to eat,” Akhtar said. As stricter requirements re-enter into force and time-consuming operations resume, Medicaid Renewal Eligibility Check With the same office responding, she predicted that the delay would “get worse before it gets better.”

“The recipient feels like a leech.”

—SNAP Applicant, Schenectady County

The resurgence of requirements will further complicate an already cumbersome application process. snap advantage. It usually starts like this: 26 page form It also asks detailed questions about the applicant’s medical history, living conditions, financial situation, and whether the applicant or family members own the burial site. “Applicants are subject to very scrutiny to receive an alarmingly low level of aid,” said Jessica Radbord, a senior attorney at Empire Justice, an Albany-based legal advocacy group.

“It’s incredibly time consuming,” said a recent Schenectady County applicant. “And the recipient feels like a leech.”

All of this leaves people like Garcia without a place to go. To make matters worse, she recently lost her wallet at Walmart. She is an illegal immigrant ( snap The application is technically in her child’s name), and there is currently no photo ID or way to apply for a new Mexican. identification.

She cooks hearty meals for her children, mostly with traditional Mexican dishes. “A little bit of rice, beans, whatever,” she said. “They love it when I make tacos dorado with white rice.” “I needed some aguacate or something,” she said.)

She paid for those meals with the money she had planned for rent during the long six months she spent without food stamps. Now she fears she will be evicted by her landlord.

“We’re getting to the point where we’re probably going to be evacuated to shelters,” she said. “And they just give me so many problems when I ask for help.”

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