Overwhelmed human service workers fall behind in processing food stamp benefits

The state says of the 10,000 monthly applications, it is about 2,000 behind - and working to catch up.
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 5:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For thousands of Hawaii households, food stamps help put food on the table.

But this weekend, some were disappointed when the monthly allowance didn’t show up on their EBT cards.

The reason: Overwhelmed state workers.

On Monday, the state said it has received a crucial waiver from the federal government that should help them catch up with monthly benefits for thousands in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

About 2,000 people did not get their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards refreshed with new money this weekend.

Most were to receive the payments on Saturday.

Martha Randolf was number 29 in line Monday morning at the Department of Human benefits servicing center at Iwilei, carrying the documents that confirmed she was due about $600 in benefits. The documents showed the department acknowledged her application was complete on Sept. 26, over six weeks ago.

Despite that, her card was not replenished as of 8:15 am Monday, when she joined the line at the center to talk with an eligibility worker. And she was not alone. The son of an elderly woman who spoke only Chinese showed us a similar confirmation. He told us her mother was distressed because she thought her card had been “cut off.”

“I’ve met several people who seem to be in the same situation,” Randolf said. “They are here because their card is no longer good. And they don’t know why, and they are saying things like how am I going to get food for today?”

She said said she’s lucky she has a stocked freezer.

Randolf added that she knew she had done everything she needed to get the benefits, and was frustrated for herself and others after being told by staff that there aren’t enough state workers to process their paperwork.

“This kind of emergency incompetence is not acceptable,” she said. “They all know, our government knows.”

Department of Human Services spokesman Amanda Stevens cited inflated caseloads and new requirements as increasing the department workload.

Anticipating the challenge, the department did set up a hotline ― 855-643-1643 ― for people with problems.

It also requested and confirmed Monday that the federal government has approved a waiver of the interview requirement, which should immediately free up staff to deal with the monthly caseload.

As for Randolf, after five hours in line, she said a very caring and patient worker fired her card back up so she could go grocery shopping Tuesday.