O’Brien out as Alaska Division of Public Assistance director

Deb Etheridge, a former State employee, will now serve as the Director of the Division of Assistance in the wake of a major backlog services
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 1:26 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 10, 2023 at 7:04 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance director left her position on Monday, according to the Department of Health.

The department confirmed that Shawnda O’Brien is no longer working as the Division of Public Assistance director effective Jan. 9.

Department of Health Communications Director Clinton Bennett said in an email that Deb Etheridge, a former health department employee, will take up the position. According to the Division of Public Assistance website, Etheridge began her work as the director on Jan 10.

No reason was given for O’Brien’s departure. Bennett said he was unable to comment on personnel matters.

According to Bennett, a backlog in the processing of applications affected around 8,000 Alaskan households. Some families’ applications experienced delays as long as three to four months. The list of programs impacted includes social services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and childcare support.

According to Bennett, processing applications continues to be a “top priority” for staff.

“DPA staff have been working very hard and making progress with the applications,” Bennett said. “The September 2022 application backlog has been cleared and now staff working the oldest applications have moved on to the next month.”