Georgia Governor Orders Cleanup to Food Stamp Program to Avoid Federal Cuts

April 3, 2014

By Greg Bluestein

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is ordering changes aimed at clearing the backlog jamming the state’s food stamp program as federal officials threaten to cut up to $76 million in administrative funding if the problems aren’t fixed.

Deal’s office said Department of Human Services Commissioner Keith Horton was instructed to seek a federal waiver on Thursday that would allow the state to immediately approve food stamp applications from some of the neediest Georgians. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said although the waiver would allow automatic approval, the state would later verify each applicant’s eligibility and claw back the benefits if they’re found to be ineligible.

The move is aimed at clearing a backlog of roughly 30,000 cases that were overdue for action. As the AJC’s Craig Schneider reported this week, applicants calling for help have been placed on hold for hours or their calls simply went unanswered. Many lost their benefits because they must reapply every six months but couldn’t get through.

The federal government, which pays for food stamps but splits the management costs with the state, has warned that it would slash some or all of their $76 million as early as May 1 unless the state makes significant changes.

The waiver would only apply to “expedited” cases, which typically involve food stamp applicants who earn no income. The state usually has seven days to determine their eligibility for food stamp benefits, but a backlog has extended that timeline.