New York City’s welfare agency is only processing about 36% of food stamp applications on time, according to the most recent data from Mayor Adams’ administration.
The data, shared by Department of Social Services Acting Commissioner Molly Park during a City Council hearing Monday, gives an account of her agency’s food stamp “chance” rate as of December.
Under federal and state “timeliness” rules, applications for SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, must be processed within 30 days. But the December rate shows that the Human Resources Administration, the DSS subagency responsible for welfare benefits, more often than not does not meet those requirements.
The latest data also shows that the compliance rate is getting worse. The city’s on-time rate for processing SNAP applications was 42.3% as of October, according to data previously released by the Adams administration.
SNAP benefits are typically loaded onto prepaid debit cards that low-income New Yorkers can use to buy food. A family of three can receive up to $740 a month in cash from SNAP, and New Yorkers left without benefits due to processing delays have been forced to go hungry, sometimes for months, the Daily News reports.
In testimony before the Council’s General Welfare Committee on Monday afternoon, Park said the Human Resources Administration’s processing rate has improved since December. She said the data is not yet available to support that.
Park, who took over as acting commissioner after her embattled predecessor Gary Jenkins resigned earlier this month, said persistent staff shortages at the HRA are partly to blame for problematic food stamp processing rates. .
“I’m not going to pretend we don’t need staff. We need staff,” she said.
According to the agency’s data, there are more than 2,000 open positions in the Department of Social Services, including hundreds of jobs in HRA’s welfare processing divisions.
Park said his agency is taking “aggressive” steps to recruit staff and has filled more positions since December. However, he could not say how many hires have been made in that time period and acknowledged that his agency is not fulfilling his mission in the meantime.
“If only one household has to wait for their benefits, that’s too much,” he said.
Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler, a Democrat who co-chairs the Council’s Progressive Caucus, told Park he believes the HRA staffing crisis was exacerbated by Adams’ decision last year to permanently eliminate 1,000 vacant positions in the Department of Social Services as part of an effort to reduce city spending.
Between those vacancy reductions and the current job openings, Restler said the Department of Social Services has never seen staffing levels this low.
“I am furious about it, because people are suffering,” he said.
Manhattan Councilwoman Diana Ayala, who chairs the General Wellness Committee, said she believes the Adams administration’s decision to ban remote work at the Department of Social Services has also contributed to high staff attrition rates.
“I think it desperately needs to modernize,” he told Park, adding that it would be “a game changer” if the agency starts allowing benefits processing staff to work from home.
Park noted that the administration last month announced a tentative contract with DC37, the city’s largest public sector union, which would launch a hybrid work pilot program for some city employees.
“We will work with the union to make sure they are part of the remote work pilot program,” Park said of the HRA staff.