Short-staffing at DHHS blamed for delays in delivering food stamp

AUGUSTA — The Department of Health and Human Services blames short staffing for a delay in its delivery of supplemental food benefits to eligible low-income Mainers.

DHHS spokesman John Martins, who could not immediately identify how many recipients are being affected by the problem, said the backlog affects people who are involved in the annual renewal process, which involves reaffirming financial information and other eligibility criteria.

“There is a backlog of cases and we are using all available staff resources to address them in the short term,” wrote Martins in response to questions emailed by the Bangor Daily News. “Staffing is a primary reason for the backlog (vacancies and staff turnover) and we are currently working to fill vacant positions.”

Terrie Haggey, a mental health worker in the Bangor area, said she has several clients who have been affected by the delays, and that local food banks and other charity organizations are usually unable to fill the void.

“This has caused people to go for days or weeks without food stamps,” said Haggey. “A lot of our folks are living off $700 a month and most of them can’t afford not to have that for weeks on end.”

Haggey said the delays have ranged from a few days to three weeks.

“This is hitting a portion of the whole food stamp population,” said Haggey.

Martins said the problem is likely at a monthly peak right now because of the schedule under which annual reviews are processed and benefits distributed. Anyone due for an annual review must submit information to DHHS by the 10th day of the month, and information is processed in a first-in, first-out manner.

Under normal circumstances, benefits are released to people’s state-issued EBT cards between the 10th and 14th of the following month.

Martins said despite the delays, recipients will receive all of the benefits they are entitled to once their paperwork is processed. The Office for Family Independence is in the midst of revamping the way it processes food stamps and other benefits, including the introduction of electronic imaging and other technology, and is moving toward a more task-oriented workforce, versus a geographically based one.

“By using technology and other resources, the workload can be spread out over all DHHS offices, which will allow for cases to be processed faster and for more balance in the workload across the state,” said Martins. “This process redesign is currently underway with full completion targeted by the end of the calendar year.”

According to DHHS data, in May 2014, more than 230,000 individuals in Maine were receiving food stamps for a total distribution of some $26.9 million in benefits. Cumberland County had the highest distribution — $4.4 million — followed by Penobscot County at $3.4 million, and Androscoggin and York counties with about $2.9 million. The lowest-receiving county from a monetary perspective was Piscataquis, with about $458,000 in food stamps distributed in May.

Food stamps, which since 2008 have been called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are funded by the federal government.

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Comments

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Typical LePage folly and trait

They cannot take care of regular business and want to add more work to staff by setting up photo ID that has failed on EBT cards in two other states...

What they, LePage and Mayhew are short of is brains among themselves....

CAROLYN LIBBEY's picture

Oh, Jerry. We have to feel

Oh, Jerry. We have to feel very, very sorry about the Emperor. He's busy cooking up a deal with a Chinese company that makes military weapons and toxins for the same use. And I don't necessarily see him being invited by the Chinese. It's probably the other way around--another vacation spot.

They're going to cancel the

They're going to cancel the deal when they find out LePage won't be able to deliver on his promise to give them as much free prison labor they can get.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Short staffing

That is the problem at the courts, the prisons, at the psychiatric hospital and at the tax office. But when it comes to DHHS it's just another day at the clown circus. Mainers pay for and deserve government that functions.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Bottom line

There is nothing that Mary Mayhew can do right....time for Maine to throw her and lePage to the curb......

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