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Some Rhode Islanders waiting months for food stamps

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Some people applying for food stamps at the Rhode Island Department of Human Services are having to wait months to get approved, Target 12 has learned.

DHS offices statewide are closed for most in-person services due to the pandemic, and getting issues resolved remotely has proven difficult. Those applying for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — have to call a centralized call center with questions, and often wait hours.

Brianna, a mom from East Providence, said she first filled out her SNAP application with a social worker on Nov. 4. She called a few days later to make sure it was approved.

“They told me I was missing something,” Brianna said. “I said well, could you email it so I could sign it? And the lady literally told me, ‘We’re closing. I can’t.'”

After that, she said it only got worse. She said she’s called roughly 20 times since early November, estimating that her wait times have ranged from two to four hours.

“I’ve contacted them on Facebook, I’ve called, I’ve had other people reach out,” she said.

Brianna had a baby in October and has another daughter in diapers. She said she and her husband make a combined $377 per week, and have an $800 monthly rent and other expenses to think about.

“I have to wonder, do I have enough to make it through the week to get diapers and everything else I need?” Brianna said. “And then you have the holidays. It’s a lot.”

Brianna said when she previously applied for SNAP benefits in person before the pandemic, the approval process would take an hour at most.

Three days after Target 12 reached out to DHS on Brianna’s behalf, we learned Monday afternoon that her application for SNAP benefits has been approved.

Kevin Simon, director of the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, told Target 12 that he’s helped roughly a dozen people apply for SNAP benefits since September, when federal unemployment benefits ended nationwide.

“Immediately, out of the gate, we would make phone calls, and be on hold for three or four hours,” Simon said. “A lot of times, those calls would get dropped, and then you’d have to start the process all over again.”

He said several of the people he’s helped were only approved after months of calling.

When Target 12 tried to call on Thursday, it took nearly two hours to get through to the call center.

Simon said he now drives people to food pantries in Providence, North Providence and Pawtucket to get people access to food. He said the approval process never took this long before things changed in September.

DHS declined Target 12’s request for an interview, but spokesperson Alisha Pina sent this statement: “DHS is aware that call center wait times are longer than usual, and we are working with our federal partners to make operational changes that would move applications more quickly.”

The statement also said DHS has issued the “vast majority of social service benefits in a timely manner,” and that 81,168 Rhode Island households were issued SNAP benefits last month in a timely manner.

If you would like to donate to Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, you can do that here.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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