ATLANTA — Christmas is six days away as tens of thousands of Georgians across the state wonder how they’ll be able to feed their families this month.
Now, the federal government is escalating the situation as the Georgia Department of Human Services continues to grapple with a backlog of SNAP cases. The department has been missing federal deadlines when it comes to issuing monthly benefits on time, and many families are stuck with no answers as to when their cases will be processed
The issue was detailed in a November 21 letter from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to Georgia Department of Human Services Commissioner Candice Broce, where federal regulators reveal the state is “severely out of compliance with Federal requirements” related to processing new applications on time.
Federal law requires benefits be issued to eligible recipients within 30 days of an application for standard cases, and within seven days for expedited cases. The process of approving applications is one of the most fundamental parts of the assistance program, Georgetown Law professor David Super told 11Alive.
“The USDA’s letter points out that this is not a sudden blip, but that prior data showed that Georgia has an ongoing problem with not getting food to people who need it,” Super said. “It indicates to me a lack of confidence in Georgia’s administration and indicates that the USDA is seeing these problems recur, has raised them a number of times, has seen partial patches here and there.”
As a result, federal regulators are now requiring Georgia submit a corrective action plan within 30 days to address the root causes of the problem and find ways to improve processing times, including timelines for completion.
Georgia’s rate, the letter states, has been “concerning for some time,” with the state “severely out of compliance with Federal requirements.” From January 2023 – June 2023, the state’s APT rate, as detailed in the letter, was 84.90%. More recent data requested by 11Alive through open records requests show the state’s APT rate has continued to drop since that time, hitting a 6-month low in October at 72.31% (the latest month for which data is available).
“I’ve heard people had pasta for Thanksgiving, and they still haven’t received their SNAP benefits,” Ife Finch Floyd, Director of Economic Justice for the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, told 11Alive. “And we’re coming up on another holiday where they still might not have enough to eat.”
Finch Floyd said SNAP is critical support not only for families with low wages, but their children as well as the elderly and those living with disabilities.