The volume of calls from people seeking food stamps in the wake of Hurricane Ida remained steady Wednesday but not as many as the past two days.
A deluge of calls, particularly on Monday, were so numerous that many reported being frozen out of the application process while those who got through complained of long waits.
The average wait time Wednesday was about 46 minutes and the maximum wait time was around an hour, said Sean Ellis, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
The agency’s application system can handle 1,500 calls at any one time but juggled up to 300 calls per second on Monday, leaving a good many callers unable to get through and for those who could, up to 2 hours 21 minutes waiting for a DCFS staffer to pick up and process their applications.
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.
By Tuesday, the maximum wait time dropped to 1 hour 32 minutes, he said.
One member from an effected household is asked to apply by phoning (888) 524-3578 at a designated time.
Staffers are required by law to interview applicants and enter specific financial numbers into a computerized system that calculates whether the family qualifies for food stamps. DCFS handled 26,595 calls during the first two days applications were opened and 8,627 calls as of 2 p.m. Wednesday.
DCFS expects 185,000 Louisiana residents eventually will file for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, D-SNAP.
The federal government last week relaxed the qualification rules for receiving food stamps because of Hurricane Ida. By adding storm-related expenses between Aug. 26 and Sept. 24 to the calculation, D-SNAP temporarily opens the door to food stamps for some households who ordinarily make too much money for the benefit – up to $680 in groceries for a family of four.
After a rough opening day for the three-week application period, Tuesday was a little better though call volumes remained high and wait times …
Because food stamps are so associated with low-income people, state officials, up to the Gov. John Bel Edwards, mayors, council members, even LSU, told their audiences not dismiss D-SNAP and try applying when the three-week application period opened Monday. Those already receiving regular food stamps can't apply.
The state has set up a schedule based on the home parish of the applicant and the first letter of their last name.
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. 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.”
Phase 1 started Monday for applicants living in East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Orleans, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes. People with last names beginning A through S were to apply earlier this week.
Thursday is for last names beginning T-Z and living in the 10 parishes.
Those who don’t get connected on their day, can phone in on Friday and Saturday of the same week.
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.