HARTFORD, CT — Five years after filing a federal lawsuit against the state to force it to issue food stamps in a timely manner, legal aid attorneys said they’ve reached a settlement.
Greater Hartford Legal Aid and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, which brought the class action lawsuit against the state in 2012, announced the settlement Monday. The settlement requires the Department of Social Services to process food stamp applications and provide benefits to eligible households in a timely manner.
That means needy households must get benefits within 30 days and the lowest income households must get assistance within seven days. The consent order further requires the state to provide extensive reporting on the applications to demonstrate its compliance. The federal court will retain oversight of the compliance.
When the lawsuit was filed in March 2012, DSS had told lawmakers that anywhere between 20 to 40 percent of food stamp applications had been pending for 30 days or longer. Now the agency handles 94 percent of the 30 day applications on time.
“DSS has made great improvements in the processing of food stamps applications since the class action was filed” Lucy Potter, a GHLA attorney, said. At the time the plaintiffs filed the suit, Connecticut was ranked among the worst states in the country in providing food assistance to needy families in a timely manner.
“We are gratified that the state will be working to ensure that low-income families in Connecticut will receive critical assistance in a timely fashion,” Gina Mannix of NCLEJ added.
The benefit received by food stamp recipients depends on income and expenses but the maximum benefit for a single person is $194 per month and $649 per month.
There are more than 405,000 Connecticut residents receiving food stamps.
David Dearborn, a spokesman with the Department of Social Services, said the reason they were able to improve their performance and become one of the best performing states is a result of the modernization process, including online applications and investments in technology.
He said the settlement agreement “itself resolves disputes about the agency’s performance in 2011 and earlier, while echoing our commitment to providing excellent customer service and continuing our current superior application timeliness performance.”