- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded Hawaii more than $660,000 for expediting its review of applications for the federal food stamp program.

The state Department of Human Services has come a long way from 2010, when only 29 percent of applications were processed within the 30 days required by federal rules. In fiscal 2014, the department raised that figure to 94 percent.

“What a remarkable transformation for all of those naysayers that always say government takes forever to respond,” Gov. David Ige said at a press conference at Washington Place to accept the Department of Agriculture award.

Hawaii is currently ranked among the top six states for its timely filing of SNAP applications, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1lDAXSt).

But the state still struggles with its participation rates. Only two-thirds of Hawaii residents eligible for the program receive SNAP, according to USDA statistics from 2012, which are the most recent available. Hawaii only ranked above Nevada, California and Wyoming for its participation rates.

Victor Geminiani, an executive director of Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, said Hawaii is “failing miserably” at participation.

“In the context of the homeless and immigrant population and in the context of the elderly population and, we would argue, in the context of people with children in daycare, there is significant underutilization,” Germiniani said.

Hawaii’s SNAP program is “quite antiquated,” he said, as most states now provide residents the option to apply for food assistance online. Germiniani also attributes low participation rates to a lack of public outreach.

However, DHS spokeswoman Keopu Reelitz said in an email that the department has made improvements to the SNAP application process. DHS now allows residents to download applications online, conducts interviews by phone and stores applications electronically to increase efficiency.

While Hawaii has ranked low for participation, the number of residents using SNAP grew by 18 percent between 2012 and 2014. Monthly benefits increased from $35 million to $43 million during the same period.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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