- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A federal appeals court has determined people applying for food stamps in Connecticut have the right to sue the state over delays in processing their applications, a long-running problem at the Department of Social Services.

Lucy Potter, a lawyer for Greater Hartford Legal Aid, said Tuesday she hopes the decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, released on Monday, will ultimately encourage DSS to continue its efforts to improve how long it takes to process applications.

“We want a little more improvement and we want to make sure it stays that way,” she said.

Federal law requires DSS to process applications in 30 days, or seven days in cases of dire need. When Greater Hartford Legal Aid and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice first filed the lawsuit on behalf of food stamp applicants in 2012, hundreds of people had waited over 90 days for their applications to be processed and thousands had waited over 45 days.

DSS said Tuesday it was reviewing the court decision with the state Attorney General. While disappointed in the ruling, the agency said it has made “tremendous improvement” in processing applications and issuing accurate payments.

“In fact, the Food and Nutrition Service has acknowledged our significant progress and continued commitment toward meeting federal standards for application processing,” read a statement released by the state agency. DSS said the state is currently administering the federal food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to more than 230,000 eligible households in Connecticut.

Potter agreed improvements have been made. She cited recent statistics from DSS that show 8 percent of regular food stamp applications are delayed while 12 percent of the expedited cases for people in dire need are delayed.

“They have definitely applied themselves to improving this,” she said. “But without the lawsuit, would they have done that? It’s hard to say.”

Monday’s decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals determined Greater Hartford Legal Aid and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice had standing to file the lawsuit, unanimously upholding an lower court ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor. The state had challenged the authority of the plaintiffs to bring the case. Potter said the matter now returns to the lower court, where a final plan will be reached to prevent DSS from delaying more cases. Potter said there may be a settlement in the matter.

The maximum food stamp benefit for a single person is $194 a month, while the maximum benefit for a family of four is $649 a month. The final amount depends on income and expenses.

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