Wait for food stamps continues, but could prompt legislative changes

Canned goods on a grocery store shelf
IGA Foodland Grocery Store in Juneau. (Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Many Alaskans have faced long waits for food over the last year as the state Division of Public Assistance worked through a lengthy application backlog for SNAP, the supplemental nutrition assistance program, formerly called food stamps.

The current backlog is about 7,000 applications, according to Deb Etheridge, the division’s director. During a discussion Oct. 31 on Talk of Alaska, Etheridge said the division is also taking steps to streamline the application process. 

“We’re working right now to develop an online SNAP application which includes an individual’s portal so people can just upload their information and apply online,” Etheridge said. 

State Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, also has a proposal to streamline the process. During the discussion, she highlighted recent legislation she introduced that aims to simplify SNAP applications, make more people eligible and to reduce work for the Division of Public Assistance. 

“It allows a state to increase the income limit for the eligibility for SNAP from 130% poverty level to 200% poverty level,” Mina said. “Additionally, it allows states to remove the asset test. The asset test is part of the SNAP process where they look at your savings.”

Mina said the bill would allow people who need assistance to be able to start saving while still getting SNAP benefits. That would avoid what is sometimes called the “benefits cliff,” when a small increase in earnings or savings makes someone suddenly ineligible for benefits. 

The backlog has also highlighted the need for more local food production, according to Andrew Jenson, a policy advisor for food and energy security for Gov. Mike Dunleavy. During the discussion, Jensen noted that as a policy goal for the coming year.

“In the upcoming legislative session, you are going to see a package of policy proposals put forward that are designed to incentivize and really ‘de-risk’ the production of food in Alaska,” Jensen said.

Despite progress, Etheridge said it’s still difficult to estimate exactly when the current backlog of SNAP benefits will be addressed.

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at rcassandra@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Rachel here.

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