DSNAP phone issues said to be solved; applications, interviews continue all week
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The state said it resolved a telephone issue that had some applicants for federal disaster food assistance enduring long waits or even being dropped from the call on Monday. As a result, the Department of Children and Family Services extended call-in hours until 7:30 p.m. on Monday (Sept 20) instead of the usual end time of 6:30 p.m.
Shavana Howard is DCFS Assistant Secretary for Family Support. She spoke to FOX 8 about the technical issues that cropped up in the morning as applicants called in to be interviewed for the federal benefits.
“We had roughly about 1,700 people I think on the call this morning before we started having some challenges with the call volume and some of them may have been dropped off the calls,” said Howard. “DSNAP is a food assistance program that is designed that have been impacted by a disaster who have lost income because of a disaster or damage done because of a disaster.”
Phase 1 of the program is for applicants who reside in East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Orleans, Point Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Washington, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana Parishes. And Monday was the day applicants whose last names begin with “A” through “F” were asked to call into the program.
“We did have a lot of people calling in and we had some challenges with the call volume and our server this morning. We quickly got those resolved but we have a lot of people who are calling in, I think at one point we had 4,000 calls and that was as of like 10-something this morning,” said Howard.
She said issues experienced during heavy call volume on the first day people were asked to call in had nothing to do with staffing.
“I know that we are consistently on the phone with our call center vendor to make sure that the servers and the lines are cleared and free so that our staff can take the calls. We have a lot of staff available, we’re just trying to work out those kinks that always happen whenever we go live with anything on day 1 it seems to be, so we have adjusted,” said Howard.
People with last names beginning with the letters G-M are to call on Tuesday and the other letters follow on days the rest of the week. However, on Friday and Saturday of this week, the call center is open to all applicants regardless of their last name as long as they reside in one of the Phase 1 parishes. On their designated day, applicants are to call the LAHelpU Customer Service Center at 1-888-524-3578 between the hours of 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.
Howard said another problem is some applicants are calling when they are not supposed to do so.
“People calling on the wrong day, we’re only doing Phase 1 this morning which includes a lot of parishes, but we’re only doing A through F of the alphabet, so large call volume, just people not calling on the correct day,” Howard stated.
She was asked why it was important for as many people to pre-register for the disaster food benefits as possible.
“Pre-registration helps with the interview process. It makes the interview go a little bit quicker, it helps so you can identify the items that you don’t need during the interview. It allows us to then target text messages to individuals to let them know that we’re having a systems problem which we did do this morning,” said Howard.
Howard says they anticipate almost 200,000 will apply for the temporary food benefits. She said they consider a number of factors when determining eligibility.
“We’re projecting about 185,000 to apply, not sure how many of those will actually be approved but we are prepared to serve and take calls from those 185,000,” said Howard. “We look at net income over the 30-day period,” said Howard. “So, it really just depends on after we look at all of those things how much available cash or resources that you have to respond to that disaster which will help determine eligibility.”
DSNAP is not for people who are already receiving food stamps.
“If you’re already on SNAP we have already put in a request to the federal government and issued automatic replacement benefits for 18 parishes the beginning of September, actually that was done on September 11th, so we already issued a supplement to those households, roughly about 200,000 households about 413,00 clients who received those benefits,” Howard stated.
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