Honolulu, November 17, 2010 Today a class of low-income Hawaii residents filed a federal lawsuit against the Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) to correct the Departments ongoing and persistent failure to process in timely manner applications for Hawaiis poorest families who seek Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Defendants failure to appropriately process applications means that thousands of households are denied desperately needed assistance to help them feed their families and suffer hunger as a result.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as Food Stamps, are intended to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in low-income households by providing fully federally-funded benefits to help them purchase food. Participating states are required to comply with federal SNAP requirements, created by the US Department of Agriculture, which administers the program at the federal level. Under those requirements the Department must process and provide SNAP benefits within 30 days of the filing of applications by eligible applicants.
The plaintiffs are being represented by Lawyers for Equal Justice, a Hawaii nonprofit law firm, the National Center of Law and Economic Justice, a nonprofit law firm based in New York City and the Hawaii law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.
Over the past several months, the delay in properly processing food stamp applications has been the subject of legislative hearings and media attention, nevertheless the Departments performance has continued to deteriorate said Victor Geminiani, the Executive Director of the Lawyers for Equal Justice. It is time for the Department to make the improvements necessary to effectively operate this critical program.
The lawsuit comes amid the economic downturn at a time when more residents of Hawaii are seeking assistance, especially food stamps. As of last May, there were 139,816 people on food stamps throughout the state which represents an 18 percent increase in participation over the previous year. According to the Department, as of last May only 79.8 percent of food stamp applicants statewide were processed in a timely manner. That is down from 87 percent in July, 2009. The increase in untimely dispositions is particularly pronounced on the Islands of Oahu, parts of the Big Island and Maui. From October 2009 to February 2010, untimely processing of all SNAP application increased from 10.42% to 15% on Oahu, 47.28% to 52.8% on Maui, and 20.39% to 38.4% in Kona.
Plaintiffs include all Hawaii residents who applied for SNAP benefits that have filed application in Hawaii since August 8th, 2008 and have not had their applications processed within 30 days. The lawsuit requests that the federal court require the state to develop and implement a corrective action plan that will ensure that all SNAP applications are processed and SNAP benefits provided to all eligible individuals within the 30 day time frame required by federal law.