Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance makes progress on food stamp backlog

a sign
A sign for a store that accepts food stamps and exchange benefits transfer cards is seen in this 2019 photo. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

In the last eight days, the Division of Public Assistance has processed more than 2,000 food stamp application cases in an effort to clear a backlog that has kept thousands of Alaskans waiting more than a month for benefits.

Earlier this month, food aid was delayed by more than a month for more than 12,000 Alaskans; that number is down to 10,074.

Division Director Deb Etheridge said her employees are on track to clear the backlog in 90 days, as Health Commissioner Heidi Hegberg said in a news conference last week.

“Our staff are really meeting and exceeding the goal,” Etheridge said. “They’ve really sort of buckled in and are doing the work.”

She said their progress may slow over the holidays; the division will not offer overtime hours on Christmas Day.

“We want them to be taking care of themselves and spending time with family… really just doing self care,” she said. “You don’t want anyone to burn out.”

Etheridge said after the Christmas holiday she will reevaluate and see whether or not the division will offer overtime hours on the New Year holiday.

She said the agency is on track to launch its online application by Dec. 31. The online tool is intended to speed processing time for applications because it will reduce paperwork for the DPA and help Alaskans file complete applications.

The division is hiring and has two dozen jobs in the process of being filled — anywhere from interviews to background checks. Etheridge said there are nine vacancies for eligibility technicians, the DPA employees that process food aid applications.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget includes $8.8 million to hire 30 eligibility technicians. Etheridge said she will be ready to post those positions as soon as the Legislature passes the budget.

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