Food stamp recipients upset about backlog in benefits system

News

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A summertime fire caused a delay in food stamp benefits in Augusta, now several recipients need to feed their families.  Several complaints came into the NewsChannel 6 newsroom from those people who have not received their benefits.  A June fire at the Division of Family and Children Services office on Fenwick Street is where the problem started.  DFCS begin operating in a temporary location since then, delaying food stamp renewals as they handle additional workloads. Recipients, in turn, are now faced with figuring out how to eat this holiday season.

Tanequa Rhodes, of Augusta, is one of the recipients having issues since November.   “You’re either going to buy toys or food, which one? You can’t leave a child starving.”

One-by-one people depending on food stamp benefits marched into the local DFCS office on Bungalow Road to see about why their money has not be issued. For some, it’s not the first trip.

“I been down here everyday this week for food stamps. A renewal that I did on time,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes told us she has two children who she must now spend additional money on to feed after DFCS workers told her the renewal she submitted on time is still processing.

And it’s a total of seven children who depend on Antionette D., who chose not to share her last name.

“I completed my certification on time and turned in all my paperwork and haven’t received my children’s food stamps,” she said. “I got three additional kids that I take care of, that I provide for.”

NewsChannel 6 learned the delay people told us about stems from a fire in June that destroyed the Fenwick Street office.

Department of Social Services responded:

“The Division leadership sought and received permission from the U.S.D.A. Food and Nutrition Service to delay the Food Stamp renewals for June, July and August, limiting the effect of the fire on Richmond County recipients while Division staff set up a temporary office to serve the public. These renewal applications from June, July and August are now due, causing additional workload for staff in the Richmond County office,” said Walter Jones, DFCS Legislative & Communications Director.

Antionette D said she’s not understanding the delay.

“They tell me OK well we’re running behind. You’re running behind? Hire more people. It’s Christmas time. Everywhere else hires more people,” she said.

NewsChannel 6 also learned that there should not be a delay due to staff.   Jones added, “As the Division works to process benefit renewals, it has authorized overtime for as long as necessary to resolve this issue.”

We also found out the Bungalow Road location’s wiring had to be modified in order to transmit secure information and so case workers can talk to their assigned families. DFACS takes very seriously the importance of privacy and security when it comes to the transmission in personal information.Meanwhile these mothers say they will work to get food on the table. 

“I can feed myself, of course, but when I have other kids that are not mine, they don’t have a mother they need help,” Antionette D. added.

Rhodes said, “You’re going to put me in the situation to where now I’m going to have to spend extra money on food and Christmas right here too.”

Jones said the work has begun to help restore benefits.  The Bungalow Road facility is being rewired.  He added, “Building improvements will include more self-service kiosks in the lobby, another person is being brought in to help answer phones, and the state is assisting in returning voice mail messages. Other case managers in the district beyond Richmond County are being asked to help sort through the backlog while the Richmond County staff is continuing to work overtime.”Photojournalist: Mark Gaskins

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