La. addresses DSNAP eligibility confusion; application period is extended
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Low-to-moderate income individuals and families have more time to apply for federal disaster food assistance. The federal government added three more days to the application period and now it will end on October 13. But just because someone lost all their food during Hurricane Ida does not mean they will automatically qualify for DSNAP.
Marketa Garner Walters is Secretary of the La. Department of Children and Family Services. That agency is handling DSNAP applications and has been inundated by people calling in to apply and be interviewed. DCFS set up specific days for applicants to call in related to the first letter of their last name.
“It didn’t matter how many times we said only call on your day, the lines were overwhelmed with people calling any day because people are hungry and this has been a big disaster,” said Walters.
She said the number of calls remains high.
“The call volume right now still remains very high, it’s not quite as high as it was last week but it’s still very, very high and we know that we had people who were frustrated because they couldn’t get through,” said Walters.
DCFS says it has taken 160,000 calls so far. And the agency says it implemented a call-back system to reduce wait times but applicants. And while the numbers have not been scrubbed the agency thinks some people did not receive callbacks as planned. “It’s right around probably close to 2,000 people who may not have gotten a callback but that’s over a total of all of phase one for example,” said Shavana Howard, assistant DCFS Secretary.
The agency says it is working to address those issues.
We’ve been hearing from them; we’re capturing as many of them as we possibly can and we’re trying to address those issues as quickly as we can. The way that DSNAP is set up is that once a phase is finished, it’s finished and so we can’t go back and pick up all those callers until that fourth week and that is something that we worked out,” Walters stated.
Howard says they are working to call applicants back even if it is later than business hours.
“Our days go long, we don’t stop until we get to the last call and so there were a few days that we were doing callbacks at 8:30 p.m., and I think the last one at one point at 9 p.m. at night,” she said.
DCFS says 109,503 applications were processed through Wednesday, 80,947 cases have been approved for food stamps and 28,556 have been denied.
Walters and Howard also addressed eligibility confusion.
“There’s been this anxiety over how I lost all my food, I should be able to get DSNAP and the truth is DSNAP is an eligibility determined program; not every person that lost all their food is eligible,” said Walters.
“We realize that not everybody has been approved for a DSNAP and not everybody will, DSNAP is an income-based program,” said Howard.
Applicants’ income is taken into account.
“We do look at your available net income, your available resources and then we look at the cash, not only the cash resources but all of your checking, your savings, other resources that you have as well as the disaster-related expenses,” said Howard.
And Louisiana cannot change the eligibility rules.
“The state doesn’t have the authority to set or change criteria on a federal program,” said Howard.
DCFS also stresses that some call takers live in areas hard hit by IDA, and it continues to urge applicants to be patient.
“Our staff are Louisianans, we live in the affected area, so we’ve got people who understand the anxiety and the frustration and trying to be there to do everything they can to support the callers,” said Walters.
DCFS expects to get to all applicants during the new fourth phase of the application period which runs from October 11 through October 13.
Walters says because of the pandemic DSNAP is being handled online and through telephones.
“Louisiana is really used to DSNAP, we know this program really well, but we know it in the old-fashioned way of big box stores with tables and tables and tables and laptops and our staff lined out at tables and the national guard helping us at the front gate and when we did it that way, the only people that came into the building were the people in the right alphabet cue,” said Walters.
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