HONOLULU (AP) — The state of Hawaii said people haven't been completing the paperwork they need to continue receiving food stamps, raising concerns that thousands may be unintentionally cut off from public assistance.
The concerns come after the federal government, citing the coronavirus pandemic, dropped the normal requirement that people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, do an eligibility review and a six-month review. It did so to ensure that people did not experience a lapse in benefits during the public health emergency. It lifted the waiver this month.
The state Department of Human Services sent 2,200 letters for the six-month review last month, but only 700 were returned, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. It sent 15,000 eligibility review letters, but only 7,000 were returned.
“Typically, we receive about 80% back in normal years,” said Brian Donohoe, the department's benefit, employment and support services administrator. He called the response rates "frighteningly low.”
Those who do not turn in their paperwork on time will be notified that their SNAP benefits have been terminated. While the person’s Electronic Benefit Transfer card will still work, no new funds will be added. The person would have to reapply, and would likely see a gap in receiving the service.
Donohoe is especially worried about the low return of paperwork because so many new people began getting SNAP benefits during the pandemic.
In June 2019 there were about 154,000 individuals receiving SNAP benefits. As of last month, there were about 205,000 people doing so.
Although he said he cannot be sure, Donohoe does not think that the lack of returned paperwork means that people no longer need assistance.
“Our concern is that they’re simply not filling out the paperwork," he said.
People will continue to receive notices over the next six months to turn in the required paperwork, depending on the date that they started receiving SNAP benefits.