Thousands of Illinois residents applying for food benefits may be experiencing longer waits, and state officials are addressing those concerns.
The state, which operates the fifth-largest food assistance program in the country, acknowledges that they could have done a better job of explaining a new benefits eligibility system before changing the program in October, but they are stressing that it’s ultimately up to clients to meet important deadlines.
“I think we could have done a better job communicating to customers because we went from a manual process to an automatic process,” DHS official Diane Grigsby Jackson said.
That program changed the way that qualification for the benefits system was calculated. Case workers speaking on behalf of their union say that computer glitches and random shutdowns have hindered the ability of people who are applying for assistance, but the state disagrees with that assertion.
According to Illinois officials, most of the 41,000 people who recently lost benefits did not provide required documentation in time.
“The rules for the SNAP program have not changed, but enforcement rules have and now it’s quicker and more automatic for individuals to quality for the SNAP benefits,” State Rep. LaShawn Ford said. “But it’s also a quicker determination where people may lose their benefits.”
Under state law, SNAP recipients must prove eligibility twice a year. The Department of Human Services is waiving mid-point reports for those who had new proofs due in November, December, or January.
That means that many people who did not receive benefits last month could see them again this month.
“We want to say to our clients that if you have missed benefits that you are eligible for on your LINK cards, those benefits will appear today or tomorrow for the November reporting period,” Jackson said.
Illinois officials are reminding clients that they can skip waiting rooms and apply for SNAP benefits online.