After a flood of calls from people wanting to apply for disaster-related food stamps, the federal government agreed to extend the application period through Oct. 13.
The new fourth phase will begin Oct. 11 and will be open to every resident, depending on the beginning initial of the applicant’s last name, in the 25 parishes impacted by Hurricane Ida.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture changed some of the qualifications for regular food stamps making eligible some households, who ordinarily make too much money for the program aimed at helping the low income. The rules changes allowed adding some storm-related damages to the formula that determines income eligibility for benefits – up to $680 of groceries for a family of four.
So many people tried to apply for emergency food stamps on the first day that the agency's phone system simply couldn't handle the volume Monday.
DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said Thursday a lot of that traffic came from applicants who were calling when it wasn’t their allotted time. Walters said her staff have fielded about 160,000 calls, so far.
Regulations require applicants for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, to phone the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services for an interview.
Where in the past applicants had to show up in person, this time the DCFS handled applications on the phone. Hoping to avoid a tsunami of calls, the agency set up a schedule based on the last names of residents in specified parishes. That orderly flow fell apart fairly quickly last week when the agency received so many calls – 350 per second at one point – that the system with 1,500 phone lines couldn’t handle it. The agency was pummeled with criticism from people who couldn't get in at all or faced long waits if they could.
“They’re hungry and they’re worried about food," Walters said. "And they’re nervous and they’re anxious. So, they’re calling and they’re not paying attention to the way we have it nicely organized and phased. They’re just calling and they’re getting frustrated.”
DCFS staffers insert income and financial assets, including savings and checking account balances, along with expenses, including disaster-related expenses, into computer software that can immediately tell applicants, in most cases, whether they qualify and if so for how much.
People who already receive regular food stamps are not eligible.
Of the 109,503 applications that have been processed through Wednesday, 80,947 cases have been approved for food stamps and 28,556 have been denied.
After a rough opening day for the three-week application period, Tuesday was a little better though call volumes remained high and wait times …
Residents allowed to apply for disaster-related food stamps live in Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin (only lower St. Martin parish ZIP codes 70339 and 70380), St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana parishes.
DCFS is still in Phase 2 of collecting applications.
Residents Ascension, Assumption, Iberville, Jefferson, Livingston, Plaquemines, St. Helena, St. Martin (lower St. Martin Parish ZIPs only 70339 & 70380), St. Mary and Tangipahoa parishes whose last names begin with T through Z are able to apply Thursday.
On Friday and Saturday, applications can be accepted from people living in those parishes regardless of their last names.
PHASE 3 – October 4-9
For Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and Terrebonne parishes
- Monday, Oct. 4 – Residents with last names beginning with A-F
- Tuesday, Oct. 5 – G-M
- Wednesday, Oct. 6 – N-S
- Thursday, Oct. 7 – T-Z
- Friday, Oct. 8 – Open for all (letters A-Z) in the Phase 3 parishes
- Saturday, Oct. 9 – Open for all (letters A-Z) in the Phase 3 parishes
The new PHASE 4 – October 11-13
For all of the 25 parishes
- October 11 – Residents with last names beginning with A-L
- October 12 – M-Z
- October 13 – A-Z (open to all last names)
While still busy, the phone lines to apply for disaster food stamps calmed down considerably on Thursday.