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State workers say layoffs, furloughs delaying benefits, creating backlog

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State benefits eligibility workers say more needs to be done to address backlogs of food stamp, welfare and medical applications.

At a legislative hearing today, several workers raised concerns about their caseloads and say layoffs and furloughs have meant it’s taking longer for residents to get benefits.
“I am not only tired. I am exhausted,” said Linda Tsark, statewide administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as the food stamp program. “I feel like I am being worked to death.”

Tsark said only 79.8 percent of food stamp applications statewide are “timely,” which means they are processed within 30 days or 7 days for emergency assistance.
That’s down from 90 percent before the economic downturn and 87 percent in July 2009.
Federal guidelines mandate a 95 percent timeliness rate.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association says the backlogs are because of tight staffing at the Department of Human Services, which last year laid off 366 people.
But DHS says the backlogs pre-date the layoffs.

In written testimony to the Human Services Committee, DHS Director Lillian Koller said work is being done to address backlogs, including looking at models from other states.

“Enhancements implemented so far include increasing the percentage of client interviews conducted over the phone rather than in-person, equalizing workloads among staff, reducing paperwork and making maximum use of young people hired through the Summer Youth Employment Program,” Koller said in the testimony.

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