CHICAGO — Illinois could lose more than $18 million in funding if it doesn’t accelerate the processing times on food stamp applications within the next month, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said.
The USDA, which administers the food stamp program, sent the Illinois Department of Human Services a letter stating that the state agency has until April 21 to significantly improve timeliness or develop an effective strategy to make it happen, the Chicago Tribune reported. The state agency has pledged to fix the food stamp, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, problems, which it says happened under former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.
“The new administration is working quickly to rectify this issue by addressing SNAP application processing issues at our local offices and filling caseworker vacancies,” the department said in a statement. “We take our responsibility to ensure Illinoisans have access to reliable food assistance very seriously and we will look for any and all opportunities to provide better service to our customers as we move forward.”
Illinois is among the 10 worst states for timeliness rates, according to USDA. Around 1.8 million residents in Illinois are using SNAP for groceries — most of them children, the elderly or people with disabilities.
Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition, advised the state to work swiftly to fill caseworker jobs as well as clerical positions, which are partially the cause of processing delays. State workers have told her there are 400 openings at local benefits offices, she said.
Doherty noted the state’s rocky implementation of an automated system that was supposed to simplify the application process but has instead compounded the workload. Her organization, which operates a hotline, said SNAP applicants have called to complain that their applications are taking a month longer than they should or that their benefits are being voided when they shouldn’t be.
“They fix one problem and then another one pops up,” Doherty said of the system, which was developed by Deloitte for about $200 million in mostly federal funds. “With all the money that we’ve spent on this technology you’d think that there would be better efficiencies.”