(Updated 3:26 p.m.) The Department of Social Services is coming under fire again. This time for its inability to process food stamp benefits in a timely manner.
A class action filed in U.S. District Court Monday alleges thousands on needy families have gone hungry because they don’t have prompt access to food stamp benefits, also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
In January legal aid attorneys filed a similar lawsuit against the department for failing to process Medicaid applications in a timely manner.
In February 2011 DSS told lawmakers that between January 2010 and December 2011 there were anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of food stamp applications that had been pending for 30-days or longer. And their ability to process them has gotten worse, not better over the years.
According to the lawsuit the agency’s timeliness rate was 83.01 percent in 2008, 79.11 percent in 2009, and 59.49 percent in 2010.
DSS spokesman David S. Dearborn said it was disappointing that Greater Hartford Legal Aid went to court rather than continuing to work with department on practical solutions. DSS is already re-investing in technology and staffing, “reversing the trend of inattention to the agency’s infrastructure over the past decade or more,” he said in a statement.
“As Commissioner Bremby has emphasized, issues resulting from antiquated computer systems and chronic understaffing can’t be solved in a matter of months, especially in light of growing enrollment,” Dearborn said. “But we are committed to making these improvements in a way that respects both public service needs and fiscal responsibility.”
Even with logistical challenges, over 375,000 residents are currently receiving benefits under the SNAP program, he said.