The Maine Department of Health and Human Services may face substantial financial penalties for failing to process food stamp applications quickly enough, according to a letter sent last week by the federal government to Maine DHHS demanding “swift and immediate action” to resolve the situation.
According to the most recent data, Maine’s food stamp program (SNAP) – which serves about 230,000 people at a cost of $321 million annually – currently has the lowest application processing rate in the country; that’s a significant drop from Maine’s rank of 36th in 2014. While federal law entitles all eligible households to benefits within 30 days of application (or within 7 days, if they are eligible for expedited service), Maine only met that standard on 69% of applications from January to June 2015. In addition, the state’s recertification rate was only 35% from October 2014 to June 2015.
“Maine’s poor timeliness performance negatively impacts SNAP clients across the State,” wrote Kurt Messner, SNAP’s Acting Regional Administrator. “The State’s chronically poor performance in timeliness is in direct conflict with application processing statutory and regulatory provisions meant to protect a low-income household’s right to receive nutrition assistance benefits in a timely manner,” he continued.
This isn’t the first time federal officials have tried to address Maine DHHS’s poor performance record in administering food stamp benefits. Since March 2015, when Maine DHHS unveiled a Corrective Action Plan to rectify sluggish administrative processes, the numbers have gotten worse. Since September, state administrators have been reluctant to provide complete timeliness reports, despite repeated requests.
Failure to address these issues could trigger a loss of federal matching money which totaled $9 million in 2013 and $10.2 million in 2014. The sanctions would only impact administrative funding, not core services.