Recovery

Georgia Division of Family and Children Services Awaits Final Word on Disaster Food Stamp Approval

'Georgia hasn’t been subjected to a disaster of this magnitude in recent years, so we have drawn on the experience of USDA in other states.'

by Jennifer Parks, The Albany Herald, Ga. / October 31, 2018

(TNS) - Apparent confusion over the planned use of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, to address the southwest Georgia food shortage in the wake of Hurricane Michael reached the federal level Wednesday afternoon.

Officials in Dougherty County issued a news release and social media posts Tuesday evening stating that assistance through D-SNAP had been awarded for the county’s citizens impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Officials with the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Family and Children Services, commonly known as DFCS — the agency expected to be the lead on public notices and press releases on the D-SNAP program — said shortly afterward that the county had jumped the gun and that D-SNAP had not yet been approved for Dougherty County.

When The Albany Herald posted a story about the mix-up on its albanyherald.com website early Wednesday afternoon, Wayne Maloney, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services, contacted the newspaper, saying that Georgia had not turned in its official application for usage of the emergency food stamp program by early Wednesday afternoon.

“When we receive it, we will review it and respond quickly,” he said.

Maloney called The Herald back shortly before 1:30 p.m., stating that an application from Georgia had come through a few moments earlier.

DFCS officials contacted The Herald after they learned Dougherty County had issued a news release stating D-SNAP had been approved.

“I learned this afternoon that the Dougherty County EMA just issued a press release saying D-SNAP had been approved. That is not correct. We hope we will have word soon, but not yet,” Walter Jones, director of legislative affairs and communications for DFCS, said in an email to The Herald Tuesday evening.

When The Herald asked the county about that message from DFCS, a spokeswoman for the county sent a letter dated Tuesday and signed by interim DFCS Director Tom Rawlings as a response to a verbal Open Records request. The letter outlines the process taken to date to increase access to food assistance for hurricane victims, the tour Rawlings took in southwest Georgia following Hurricane Michael and some of the options that have been discussed to further help those impacted by the storm.

The letter does mention D-SNAP benefits:

“Georgia hasn’t been subjected to a disaster of this magnitude in recent years, so we have drawn on the experience of USDA in other states,” the letter says. “USDA uses a range of ways to get food to people after a disaster, from early benefits and replacement food stamps, to diverting foodstuffs from school lunches to relief shelters and grocery boxes distributed to all comers at food banks, all of which have been employed in southwest Georgia following Hurricane Michael.

“We have concluded, however, that those measures are not enough, given the severity of the suffering and the input I have received from your colleagues in the affected region. Therefore, with Governor Deal’s strong support, we have requested permission from USDA to issue Disaster-SNAP, food stamps to people in need who do not ordinarily qualify for SNAP.

“We are awaiting the USDA’s evaluation of the data about conditions on the ground in the path of Michael’s winds. We anticipate the go-ahead to distribute the benefits Nov. 7-13 in the first 13 counties certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Individual Assistance. Distribution in the second set of counties should be Nov. 14-20.

“However, because of the potential for public confusion before all the arrangements are in place, I ask you allow our agency to be the lead on all public notices and press releases on this program. Let us make the announcement through our official means from Atlanta when we can give the public specific details about times and places they can go to apply for benefits.

“We will bring in extra staff from unaffected counties to help with the processing. An impressive number answered the call when a request for volunteers went out Monday. Indeed, the performance of the division employees everywhere has been admirable since the storm.”

Along with a copy of the letter addressing the planned DFCS food stamp distribution, the county sent a statement from Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas attempting to explain the reason for the confusion.

“The benefits are not immediately available and are expected to be turned on at a later date,” the statement said. “That may explain any communication gap. I learned this information directly from the state level late today, and absolutely didn’t want to delay sharing this information with our residents. People are struggling, and this news comes as a relief to many.”

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©2018 The Albany Herald, Ga.

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