Thousands without food stamps thanks to computer glitch

More than 40,000 families in Illinois have lost their food stamp benefits because of a glitch in a new computer system.

The households lost their SNAP benefits in November.

Caseworkers estimate more than 100,000 people who should be getting food stamps are now going without, even though they have followed all the rules and filled out the correct paperwork.

“It’s happening to seniors, young moms, pregnant women, disability, veterans, people who are homeless,” says Diane Doherty, Executive Director Illinois Hunger Coalition. “I’ve just never in all my years seen something this dramatic happen to people especially at the holidays.”

Phones are now ringing off the hook at the Illinois Hunger Coalition Hunger hotline with people desperate to feed their families.

Local offices are also overwhelmed. While the state has approved overtime for staff to help sort this out, it’s a slow process.

The state says it recently replaced its 40-year-old computer systems. It admits the new automated process is causing problems, but it has already restored benefits to almost 16,000 households.

“If the technology is fixed and when it is fixed, I think it will really it will make things more efficient,” Doherty says. “However at this point what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to do damage control.”

For families with no food on their table this holiday season that damage control can’t come fast enough.

The Illinois Hunger Coalition says the state at least right now is saying people will receive “back pay” – eventually they will get all the stamps they’re entitled to. But today the state did not answer our question about how long that’s going to take.

They released a statement to WGN News saying:

The state recently replaced several 40 year old computer systems with one new and integrated system that enables our customers to apply for and manage their benefits online. This modernization project began in 2013 and recently added new capabilities for customers like the ability to manage their cases, report changes, complete redeterminations, and file appeals online. Caseworkers are now using expanded features allowing them to provide more resources to our customers and determine eligibility more accurately.

The federal government requires customer eligibility for SNAP to be determined twice a year. After 6 months, the customer is required to submit a midpoint review to document any changes that may affect eligibility. Prior to IES this was a manual process and typically 14,000-15,000 cases per month were cancelled due to late reporting of midpoint reviews or customers no longer being eligible for the benefits. This number was dependent on caseworkers manually updating individual cases. With our new system, the process is automated and applies this change to every case missing the appropriate documentation at once. Because customers may not be accustomed to the new automated process, we have asked FNS to allow us to temporarily waive the midpoint review and reinstate those benefits. We have already reinstated almost 16,000 cases.