Applications still up for food stamps

  • An attempted scam targeting SNAP recipients has prompted the Hawaii’s Department of Human Services to issue a warning to recipients to be vigilant of potential fraud. (Courtesy photo/West Hawaii Today)

If you’re a recipient of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), stay alert for potential text scams.

That’s the message being sent out by the Hawaii Department of Human Services, warning of a reported fraud attempt recently. Though only one fraud attempt has been recorded thus far in the state, the department urged recipients to contact their SNAP office if they’re unsure if any request for information is legitimate.

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The fraud attempt comes at a time when the need for food assistance is high; 177,083 Hawaii residents received SNAP benefits in August, an increase of 14.5% over August 2019’s total. The DHS has approved more than 41,000 applications since April 27; of this total, 3,607 have come from West Hawaii.

The amount of recipients, however, has fallen since June’s high mark of 180,301.

Despite the increased volume of applications, most have been processed fairly quickly. The average wait time has been approximately eight days, according to the DHS, though the department’s public information officer Amanda Stevens noted some applications took up to 20 days. The process to qualify has been altered to meet the increased demand without face-to-face interviews.

“Prior to the pandemic, applicants would be able to apply in person and schedule their eligibility review in person; since the pandemic, DHS has been able to pivot and immediately utilize federal waivers to forgo in-person interviews, adhering to social distancing guidelines,” said Stevens. “Verifications were done over the phone; however, all of same standards were utilized to verify validity of claims such as interfacing with the IRS and unemployment offices and more. We were able to go from a paper form to a fillable form, and they now able to email or drop off their applications in a secure drop box. Certifications that usually would come up were waived for six months.”

The state has also seen an increase in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits — over $2.1 million in additional assistance has been awarded from federal funds in response to the pandemic — as well as the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program designed to ensure the more than 93,500 students statewide who previously qualified for free or reduced-price lunch continued receiving those meals. P-EBT has been disbursed in two rounds: the first during the months of March, April and May, and the second for August and September.

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It is currently uncertain if a third round of P-EBT will be provided for students. State DHS officials are optimistic, however, that they remain in a good position to be able continue to meet the public’s needs.

“One of the main priorities was to maintain essential services and anticipate the surge in applications from the loss of jobs, to help the people of Hawaii during this COVID-19 crisis,” said Stevens. “Moving forward, DHS will continue to update our technology to provide timely processing and ultimately help more people in the community to get the benefits and services they need to help them thrive.”

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