Continued backlog in SNAP applications strains local resources

Many Alaskans have been waiting more than six months for the SNAP benefits they need to buy food for their households. The state government is experiencing a continued backlog in paperwork that is straining local resources.
Tribal coordinators in communities around the Bering Strait say they are seeing tribe members face long wait times after submitting new SNAP applications and annual recertifications.
Jacinta Martin, the tribal coordinator for Stebbins, said that six months to eight months seems to be typical wait time for applicants to get approved. More tribal members than usual have been turning to the food bank at the local IRA office, she said.
Kawerak, which has a General Assistance Program for tribal members, has also seen a greater need for help across the region.
“We saw a major increase in General Assistance Program applications here at Kawerak in 2023 as families had nowhere else to turn for help,” said Sara Lizak.
In 2022, Kawerak counted 87 instances when it distributed General Assistance to qualifying tribal members. In contrast, Lizak said that preliminary numbers from last year show that Kawerak distributed General Assistance at least 234 times in 2023.
Lizak said the state’s backlog doesn’t just affect SNAP benefits but also other assistance programs like the Adult Temporary Assistance Program, or ATAP.
“We sincerely hope that the State makes some progress with the backlog soon because it is putting a strain on our program,” Lizak said. “The tribal members that typically apply for our General Assistance Program are adults with no dependents who don’t qualify for State benefits. However, now we are seeing many families with children in need. Our hearts go out to everyone who has to wait so long for their benefits. Children, elders and people with disabilities are especially vulnerable when their benefits are delayed. We are doing what we can in the meantime and encourage people to seek help from other resources if they qualify. Also, Alaska Legal Services is still available to help those applicants who have been waiting for their benefits.”
More than 10,000 SNAP applications or recertifications remained in the state’s backlog as of Dec. 15, according to reporting by Alaska’s News Source.
Meanwhile, the state government just made it possible for SNAP applicants to submit their forms online with a new mobile-friendly “smart form.”
The Department of Public Assistance rolled out the new system at the end of last month and said that as of Jan. 5, it received 260 applications.
The department said that about 40 percent of people who fill out the traditional 28-page paper application do so incompletely, which contributes to delays. Director of Public Assistance Deb Etheridge said in a statement that the online form is intended to help streamline the whole process and ensure submitted applications are complete.

 

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