In a commendable feat, the Alaska Health Department’s Division of Public Assistance has successfully cleared a long-standing backlog of food aid applications that had plagued Alaska families for over a year.
Prioritizing Alaskan Families in Need
According to the report published by the Alaska Public News, in September 14, 2023, Alaska Health Department’s Division of Public Assistance recently achieved a significant milestone by clearing a long-standing backlog of applications for food aid that had been causing stress to Alaska families for over a year. However, this accomplishment has come at a price, as officials now grapple with what they are referring to as a “new” backlog. Division Director of Alaska Health Department Deb Etheridge, who assumed leadership during the backlog crisis, considers clearing the old backlog a remarkable success, with the division completing the task two months ahead of schedule.
While this achievement is commendable, the division of Alaska Health Department now faces the task of addressing a fresh set of challenges. Despite successfully addressing the old backlog, the division has fallen behind on processing newer applications for food aid. Currently, around 6,000 Alaskans are waiting for essential food assistance. Etheridge emphasizes that the division’s primary focus was to provide relief to those Alaskans who had been waiting the longest, following guidance from federal partners.
As a result, the Alaska Health Department, division’s ability to stay current with new applications has suffered, with less than 20% of new food stamp applications being processed on time since July. The average decision time for SNAP benefits has soared to over 80 days, exceeding the division’s goal by more than four times and doubling the federal limit.
Challenges Ahead and Silver Linings
In a recent report released by NewsBreak, the “new” backlog comprises applications dating back to April and May, with a majority from June. Fortunately, processing these applications should be more efficient for two main reasons: the staff from Alaska Health Department is now well-practiced in managing backlogs, and applications from two to four months ago are relatively fresh and faster to process.
While the delay in processing new applications is a concern, the division of Alaska Health Department has made significant progress in expediting renewals, with almost 40% of renewal applications being processed on time in July. This marks a considerable improvement from the previous December through April period when the figure fell below 10%. As the Alaska Health Department continues to address these challenges, its dedication to supporting Alaskan families remains unwavering.