State gets OK to once again streamline food stamp application, renewals process

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of people needing food stamps in Hawaii dropped ahead of the Omicron surge, but officials believe more people are in need again as business slows and employees work fewer hours because of illness or COVID exposure.

Some pre-COVID eligibility requirements to get or maintain benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were supposed to take effect this month.

But the federal government has approved the state’s request for another waiver.

SNAP is federally-funded so approval was needed to continue practices in place during the pandemic that make the application and renewal process faster.

“It allows us to process applications and renew applications without the need for interviews unless there are questionable items the person submits,” said Scott Nakasone, employment and support services division administrative assistant at DHS.

Nakasone said the interview process would have significantly delayed the process because of staffing shortages and high demand.

In December, about 19,000 residents were notified that they needed to renew their applications.

Requiring interviews could have even caused a gap in benefits.

“Even a short gap in SNAP benefits can have pretty profound health impacts,” said Daniela Spoto, director for anti-hunger initiatives at Hawaii Appleseed Center.

“You could be behind on your rent because you’re trying to supplement your food budget,” Spoto added, saying elderly residents sometimes delay filling prescriptions when food benefits lapse.

Since the pandemic began, demand for food stamps has skyrocketed, peaking last summer. In July 2021, more than 206,000 people had the benefit ― a 33% jump from July 2019.

The current waiver goes through March.

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