DFCS slow to fix phone line leaving families without food

8:23 PM, Dec 19, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- This holiday season many families will struggle to put food on the table, even though they've been promised the money to buy it.

The state's Department of Family & Children's Services had a glitch in its system that's now making it all but impossible for folks to renew their food stamp benefits.

DFCS says it spent three years developing its new phone system, Georgia One, which it believes will ultimately help streamline food stamp, Medicaid and TANF benefits.

Clients say that's great since many don't have transportation to get to a field office to meet with someone in person.  The only problem is that at the moment, when many call, nobody answers.

Instead, they get stuck in a vicious cycle. Dial. Wait. Get disconnected.

"It tells me they have a high call volume and then it hangs up," said one client who asked only to be identified as Simone.  She says she ran out of gas trying to get to the field office to find out what was going on.  She had to borrow money, which she would have rather put toward food, but was forced to buy gas instead.

Anne Prather has six children, three with disabilities. She didn't realize something was wrong with her account until she went to check her balance before heading to the grocery store. There was only one dollar in the account.

"You go to a food bank and there's no food. It's the holidays, everybody is in need in help.  I have no idea what we're going to do for the weekend, let alone Christmas next week," said Prather.

DFCS says the trouble stems from a printing problem. About 25,000 people didn't get a courtesy letter reminding them to renew their benefits. So when the money ran out, they called to figure out why, overwhelming the phone system.

While that would explain some delay, DFCS says it's call volume actually doubled in November, jumping from an average of 300,000 for the month to 789,422 calls. It has yet to get any better.

Prather says there's got to be more going on.  She didn't file late, she filed nearly a month early and she still doesn't have her benefits.

"My six year old daughter came up with two dollar bills and said will this buy food for us tomorrow and I cried for at least 20 minutes," said Prather.

11Alive News has also received more than a dozen complaints from viewers who said they were supposed to receive a call from DFCS to complete their application.  Dates and times were scheduled, but DFCS never called.  When they tried to reschedule or figure out what went wrong, they got stuck in the same phone line log jam as everyone else.

"It's hurtful and frustrating," said Simone.

In a written statement, DFCS said, "clients still have the option to go in the county office to receive service."

But the folks 11Alive talked with coming out of the Gwinnett office on Beaver Ruin Road said they were simply handed a piece of paper. It's the number to Georgia One. 

DFCS says the phone system can only handle 1,200 calls at a time. The average call volume right now is 36,000 a day. It's trying to find a way to increase capacity or actually resolve the issues so people don't need to call back, but there's no timeline for when anything will improve.

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