The Supplemental Diet Assistance Program, bigger accepted as aliment stamps, adeptness not acquiesce bodies to banquet like royalty. But for the about 860,000 low-income Massachusetts association who await on it, about bisected of whom are in families with aged or disabled members, it’s a basic assurance net. Lately, the net has had broad holes that accept threatened the adeptness of abounding to accumulate aliment on their plates.
“Mostly I buy milk, little stuff. I don’t buy steak. But at atomic it’s $118 (a month) I don’t accept to absorb on food,” said Jay, 71, a retired artisan from Uxbridge. He requested that his aftermost name not be used.
Jay lives on Social Security assets of about $900 a ages and receives MassHealth as able-bodied as SNAP benefits. A few months ago, he continued, “I went up to Hannaford’s and acclimated my agenda and they told me it was no good.”
Jay was one of about 90,000 residents, 10 percent of the caseload statewide, cut from the SNAP affairs over the accomplished year. Massachusetts’ abatement was nine times the civic average.
In Worcester, the cardinal of bodies accepting aliment stamps abandoned by 12 percent to about 38,000 in January 2015 from 43,000 in September 2012.
The reductions accept not appear from spending cuts, boundless application increases or added accident of recipients’ eligibility. Rather, they are a aftereffect of what Patricia J. Baker, a chief action yst at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, alleged “reckless implementation” of processing systems launched a year ago at the accompaniment Administration of Transitional Assistance, the bureau that administers the federally adjourned diet program.
Advocates in Central Massachusetts accept spearheaded grassroots efforts to accomplish abiding acceptable beneficiaries aren’t cut because of arrangement SNAFUs. In backward April, associates of the Central Massachusetts Legislative Caucus beatific a letter to Marylou Sudders, secretary of the accompaniment Controlling Office of Bloom and Animal Services, and Jeffrey McCue, abettor of DTA, requesting that the arrangement be fixed.
Accompaniment officials’ advance in acclimation the SNAP breakdown will be appear in a Telegram & Gazette adventure tomorrow.
In Jay’s case, he accustomed a ambagious “recertification adjournment notice” from DTA, which did not accord him an exact acumen but told him: “Your case will aing because we accept not been able to absolutely action it. You will not accept February 2015 SNAP benefits.”
Jay said he had been accustomed several altered buzz numbers at DTA to alarm about his benefits. “Each time they told me I’d get it afresh and again I didn’t,” he said.
“Many here, they’re 75 to 90. They’re no best driving, they’re audition impaired, visually impaired, they’re alone. They can’t cross the system,” said Marsha E. Petrillo, ambassador of the Uxbridge Chief Center. “Unfortunately, it’s aloof too cutting so they don’t reapply.”
Ms. Petrillo alleged contacts at DTA and sat bottomward at the computer with Jay to go through all his recertification documents, which had been appropriately submitted but were backlogged in DTA’s arrangement and not candy in the appropriate 30-day window. Weeks after Jay’s allowances were reinstated and he accustomed attendant payment.
Elizabeth Sheehan Castro, ambassador of Worcester Aliment and Active Living Action Council, said the “business modernization” processes at the basis of the accepted botheration were put in abode by above Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s administering to abode a assorted access in case volume, accumulated with a abatement in DTA staffing, over the antecedent decade.
Overwhelmed DTA agents were acknowledging recipients’ alternate recertification after a complete review. In 2013 the U.S. Administration of Agriculture’s Aliment and Diet Casework ambassador issued a affirmation that the accompaniment overpaid $30 actor in allowances dating aback to 2009.
In April 2014 John Polanowicz, above secretary of bloom and animal services, active a adjustment acceding with the USDA to advance $35 actor “toward deepening SNAP applicant account commitment and affairs integrity.”
Ms. Baker said, “At no point was there an accusation of artifice on the allotment of the recipients.”
However the arrangement changes were put in abode too hastily, according to advocates.
The new computer affairs that akin almsman abstracts with accompaniment Administration of Revenue files didn’t clarify out disqualified or incorrect information. The administration confused to staffing roles based on tasks such as buzz abutment or certificate processing rather than assignments as applicant caseworkers. A buzz arrangement advised to handle 6,000 calls a day was averaging 20,000 or more, consistent in continued delay times and abandoned calls. Certification requests that weren’t completed by DTA aural 30 canicule were automatically bankrupt after a caseworker’s review.
“These are systemic issues that accept aloof accomplished a crisis situation,” said Jean G. McMurray, controlling ambassador of the Worcester Canton Aliment Bank.
The aliment coffer aliment aliment to 138 aliment pantries and added accomplice agencies throughout the county, which in about-face serve added than 100,000 people. Ms. McMurray said the accomplice agencies accept apparent an access in address back 2013, some of which may be affiliated to bodies accident SNAP benefits.
“People are activity athirst because of SNAP. It’s my No. 1 concern,” said Lisa Brovelli Kelley, beat artisan at Grafton Chief Center.
Ms. Kelley said she “hoards” the Stop & Shop allowance cards bodies bead off as donations, to advice course bodies over if their allowances accept been cut. Sometimes, she buys aliment for beggared seniors herself.
Joseph W. Rej of Grafton, who will about-face 65 this month, has had his SNAP allowances bargain but not denied.
“Joe’s absolutely advantageous because he advocates for himself,” Ms. Kelley said. “You can absorb a day on the phone.”
“When you alpha aggravating to get them on the phone, you’ll absorb a accomplished day,” Mr. Rej confirmed.
The semiretired, self-employed carpenter, who has accustomed Social Security and SNAP for four years, said, “I can’t go and buy a filet, but I can go and buy sandwich meat.”
The $194 account aliment account he receives doesn’t awning domiciliary appurtenances such as detergent, absterge and toilet paper. And his Social Security has alone gone up 1½ percent over the aftermost two years.
“You still accept to go to the aliment abdomen already in a while to compensate,” Mr. Rej said.
Another client, Suzanne, who is disabled and lives in Northboro, has accustomed SNAP allowances for bristles years. She additionally asked that her aftermost name not be used.
“Every time I would get article from DTA, from SNAP, it was a altered amount,” Suzanne said.
She said she accustomed a letter to recertify her eligibility, and the borderline for all the forms to be submitted was the aing day.
Suzanne was able to fax the forms so she wasn’t dropped. But she said, “it shouldn’t be that way. Aliment is actual important to people.”
Diane Parker, who works on the Hunger Beat Team at Worcester Accompaniment University, said she spent 40 hours in October on the buzz with DTA, allowance audience cross or address their SNAP applications.
“If they do qualify, I’m accessible to go to action to accomplish abiding they get their benefits,” Ms. Parker said.
“You accept a lot of audience accord up,” said Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, a agents apostle at the Central West Justice Center, an associate of Community Legal Aid in Worcester. “Those are mostly my caseload now. It’s aloof a decay of assets for DTA and myself.”
She’s handled 10 to 15 SNAP abnegation cases back November. All accept been auspiciously reinstated, although sometimes it takes weeks.
“For me as an advocate, abstinent addition article they accept a appropriate to is unjust,” Ms. Nelson-Davies said. “It’s an alms program.”
The Central West Justice Center, Worcester Canton Aliment Coffer and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute will host a “SNAP Triage 101” training to affected barriers to accessing SNAP benefits. It will be captivated Friday at Community Legal Aid, 405 Main St., Worcester,
For added information, acquaintance [email protected]
Next: Fixing the system
Acquaintance Susan Spencer at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @SusanSpencerTG.
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