State making strides in processing SNAP applications but food banks say hunger remains a big problem

State making strides in processing SNAP applications but food banks say hunger remains a big problem
Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 3:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Department of Public Assistance has caught up with a backlog of recertifications for the food stamp program known as SNAP that in April numbered about 14,000, according to Public Assistance Director Deb Etheridge.

“Recertifications we are finished with, applications that were expedited, meaning individuals had a low amount of money and a high need, those have been completed,” said Etheridge. “And now we are working on those applications that were stuck in backlog.”

The remaining applications in backlog are from people who applied for SNAP benefits for the first time, Etheridge explained, mostly in the months of February and March. Etheridge said the division has managed to stay current with newer applications but could still fall behind as they concentrate on tackling the backlog of older applications, of which 1,500 remain. She said the goal is to be completely caught up by the end of October.

Cara Durr, with the Food Bank of Alaska, said the state is making good progress catching up with the SNAP backlog and credited Etheridge, who joined the department in January. She said a $1.7 million appropriation from Gov. Mike Dunleavy to buy emergency food supplies for food banks across the state has now been distributed and was put to good use.

“We were able to buy a nice variety of food and ship it to about 76 partners statewide,” Durr said.

But despite that, Durr said the need for food assistance is still great.

“We have partners reporting this year is a record-breaking year for people that they’ve served. Even last month we had partners saying they had their highest day ever for distribution,” Durr said.

Durr said food banks are also struggling to keep their shelves full. She said inflation has hurt their purchasing power, and at the same time the federal government is providing less food known as commodities. She added that in the summertime donations are generally down but is hopeful those will pick up, particularly in September, which is Hunger Action Month.