November 2017 timeliness rates issued by the R.I. Department of Human Services (DHS) show that almost one of every two of the neediest households in the state did not get their food stamp (SNAP) applications processed in time. Attorneys for the ACLU of Rhode Island and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) called that figure “alarming” in a letter sent yesterday to Deming Sherman, the special master appointed in the groups’ on-going lawsuit challenging DHS’ failure to comply with federal law requiring the provisions of timely food stamp assistance to needy families. The ACLU and NCLEJ stated that, despite successful efforts by DHS to reduce the backlog of SNAP applications, “the most significant conclusion to be derived from” the agency’s latest monthly report is that unlawful delays in processing SNAP applications remain all too common.

Under federal law, states participating in the food stamp program, known as SNAP, are required to process food stamp applications within thirty days of the date of application, and to provide expedited food stamps to eligible households within seven days. However, the letter noted, “the percentage of applications for which expedited SNAP was issued within 7 days was only 58.19%. This means, of course, that almost four out of every ten households determined to be the most destitute went without timely assistance during the holiday season.”

The letter also pointed to statements made by DHS that the agency would be starting December with no backlog of applications. However, the letter said, this “doesn’t seem to comport” with November’s monthly report, “which shows 32 expedited cases pending more than 30 days and 218 non-expedited cases pending more than 30 days.”

Attorneys from both sides are scheduled to meet with the Special Master on Thursday, and the ACLU and NCLEJ indicated they looked forwarded to responses to these figures from the State at that time.

The federally funded SNAP program helps put food on the table of Rhode Island’s poorest residents, but since the implementation of the UHIP system, those deadlines have never been met.  Under a court order issued in February in response to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU and NCLEJ, the state was supposed to have had a 96% compliance rate by August of this year in the timely processing of SNAP applications. The state’s substantial non-compliance prompted the court to appoint a special master in the case last month.

The text of the letter is available here.

More information about the lawsuit is available here.