BR.govpresser.090821 HS 275.jpg (copy)

Secretary Marketa Walters is in charge of the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services, the state agency handling the applications of disaster food stamps for many families suffering from Hurricane Ida damage. 

While still busy, the phone lines to apply for disaster food stamps calmed down considerably on Thursday.

During first couple of days of the three-week application period, so many phoned in to apply – at a rate of 350 calls per second some of the time – that the 1,500-line system quickly bogged down leading to dropped calls or long wait times before one of the 700 staffers could pick up. Still, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has managed to take 41,509 applications Monday through Wednesday.

The tsunami of calls led to a flood of criticism as people tried and failed to make the connection necessary to apply for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, D-SNAP. On Monday, the first day of applications, the wait time was 2 hours 21 minutes for those lucky enough to get through. 

"The average wait time, even in comparison to Wednesday, has drastically improved," said Sean Ellis, DCFS deputy communications director on Thursday. "As of 3:30 this afternoon (Thursday), the average wait time was 24 minutes, 50 seconds. The maximum wait time was 50 minutes, 58 seconds. We’ve handled 9,487 calls as of 3:30 (Thursday)."

The agency is extending call-in hours for those Phase 1 applicants who found it difficult to get into the phone tree earlier this week. Everyone, regardless of the first letter of their last names, and living in East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Orleans, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Washington, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana parishes, can phone between 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

DCFS expects 185,000 Louisiana residents eventually will file now that the federal government have relaxed eligibility rules to make available food stamps to some families who ordinarily make too much money but who suffered substantial storm damage. The change in rules temporarily includes expenses from Hurricane Ida in the income calculations that determine whether a household qualifies for food stamps.

D-SNAP is for people who don’t normally qualify for food stamps. The roughly 833,000 Louisiana residents already on regular food stamps need not apply.  The agency added reminders during the wait-time tracks asking callers to hang up if they weren’t calling during their designated application time, and thereby free the line for someone trying to apply at their proper time.

Where once D-SNAP applicants had to stand in line for hours to apply for the benefits, now the agency can take the applications over the phone in about 20 minutes after getting connected. The law requires one of the 700 staffers to speak directly to one member of the applying household. In hopes of making the phone-in application process smoother, the state came up with a schedule based on the home parish of the applicant and the first letter of their last name.

The scoop on state politics in your inbox

Get the Louisiana politics insider details once a week from us. Sign up today.

To apply a member of the household on their designated day, must phone the agency and be interviewed by staff between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. One member from an effected household is asked to apply by phoning (888) 524-3578. Applicants are asked about income, checking and savings account balances and other financial assets, as well as about a wide range of costs caused by the storm.

“We want to continue to stress that it's imperative that you only call if it's your day – and your week – to call. If not, it jams the lines for everyone else,” said Ellis of DCFS. “And if you get a busy signal, please be patient and wait a few minutes before trying again.”

A new phase begins Monday. 

PHASE 2 – Sept. 27 to Oct. 2

For residents of Ascension, Assumption, Iberville, Jefferson, Livingston, Plaquemines, St. Helena, St. Martin (lower St. Martin Parish ZIPs only 70339 and 70380), St. Mary and Tangipahoa parishes.

  • Day 1 (Monday, Sept. 27) — Residents with last names beginning with A-F
  • Day 2 (Tuesday, Sept. 28) — G-M
  • Day 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 29) — N-S
  • Day 4 (Thursday, Sept. 30) — T-Z
  • Day 5 (Friday, Oct. 1) — Open for all (letters A-Z) in the Phase 2 parishes
  • Day 6 (Saturday, Oct. 2) — Open for all (letters A-Z) in the Phase 2 parishes

PHASE 3 – Oct. 4-9

For residents of Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and Terrebonne parishes.

  • Day 1 (Monday, Oct. 4) — Residents with last names beginning with A-F
  • Day 2 (Tuesday, Oct. 5) — G-M
  • Day 3 (Wednesday, Oct. 6) — N-S
  • Day 4 (Thursday, Oct. 7) — T-Z
  • Day 5 (Friday, Oct. 8) — Open for all (letters A-Z) in the Phase 3 parishes
  • Day 6 (Saturday, Oct. 9) — Open for all (letters A-Z) in the Phase 3 parishes

Additional information about the emergency food stamps can be found by texting LADSNAP to 898-211 or by visiting www.dcfs.la.gov/DSNAP. Translation services are available for people whose primary language is not English.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.