ATLANTA — It's the week of Thanksgiving - and Georgia families are still waiting on SNAP benefits.
For the last week, 11Alive has been chronicling dozens of people who’ve reached out trying to understand why they have not received their November benefits. The federally funded program helps low-income households pay for groceries. Some families said as they await the benefits, they have to choose between paying their bills or having food on the table.
The state originally sent 11Alive this statement:
"The federal government has approved Georgia's waiver request to extend SNAP benefits for no more than six months for customers with pending renewals from August-October 2022. Our vendor that administers the Gateway portal will work through the weekend to make the appropriate system updates to trigger benefits for these customers before the Thanksgiving holiday.
To support Georgia families, November SNAP benefits previously scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 23, will be delivered on Monday, Nov. 21."
It's Monday, Nov. 21, and mother-of-two, Samantha Abrams, said the issue hasn't been resolved.
“What am I gonna do for my kids for Thanksgiving? It's crazy, that I have to go through this and I have to actually hear my kids tell me that they hungry, or are we sitting down somewhere and I hear their stomach growling," Abrams said.
Abrams spoke with 11Alive earlier this month as she waited for her SNAP benefits to show up in her account. It's been almost two weeks since then -- and still nothing.
“At the end of the day, they're going home to a full refrigerator, maybe a full deep freezer, but when you think about people out here with low income, we don't have that luxury right now, because of the simple fact is that we have we don't have our benefits," she added.
Abrams said the Department of Human Services told her she’d see the benefits in her account Monday morning. She reached out to 11Alive again when that did not happen.
"It got so bad that I even had to go to a food bank," she said. "I took my kids over to my brother's house during the weekend so that they can eat. It is getting crazy because I shouldn't have to go through those things when I’m supposed to be receiving my benefits.”
Jennifer Tidwell also woke up on November 21 to an empty account. The Bartow County resident and her husband support not only their three children, but Tidwell's four nieces.
"It's been a struggle, literally, we have a few boxes of macaroni and that's pretty much it. It's hard because I have 10 people to feed and seven of those are kids."
Tidwell said she's left several messages and finally went to her local office to try and get more information.
"They just said they will give it to my caseworker. Then I asked who my caseworker was and they said they didn't know. So, if you don't know who my casework is then how do you know who to send the message to?"
Despite being a two-income house, the Tidwell's find themselves making tougher decision each day.
"I have to take money from other bills to pay for food and now I face getting my care repossessed."
Angela Macon, also a mother of two, echoed that panic. Her account shows no date for when her next benefits will be available. All she wants are answers.
“Do I use my electric bill money and try to make it up later? Do I pull from my emergency jar - there's not much there. Some people are going to have to choose between paying their rent or buying food for their children," Macon said.
Many of the people who’ve contacted 11Alive seem to be having an issue after their benefits come up for renewal, even though they say they’ve filed their paperwork on time.
DHS, which is in charge of dispersing the federal funds, attributed the delays to a rise in applications and a worker shortage.
On Monday, the agency said people with pending renewals from August through October will have their renewals moved to February and should receive benefits in the interim.
Outside of that, if people are supposed to get benefits on the 23rd of each month, the agency said beneficiaries should get them Monday, Nov. 21.
DHS project customers will be caught up by Thanksgiving.
“Even if they were to come sometime this week, what are people supposed to do? Are they supposed to wait until 5 p.m. when the stores close? On the day before Thanksgiving? You can't prepare like that," Macon added with tears in her eyes.
Here's the full statement provided by DHS:
Customers with pending renewals from August-October 2022 who have completed their paperwork will have their renewals moved to February and receive benefits in the interim. We continue to process cases, and all customers should still return their renewal packets, requested information, and any verification checklists (VCLs) the Department asks for, especially if they have not done so and if they are up for renewal in November.
Everyone who has returned their renewal packet will receive benefits for prior months between August-October 2022. If a customer’s case was closed in September because they didn’t submit their renewal packet, they will not be covered. Customers not impacted by a pending renewal who would typically receive benefits on the 23rd of each month will receive their benefits today. Deloitte, our vendor for Gateway, is working on a technology solution where they project customers will be caught up by the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) partnered with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning to utilize data provided by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to administer benefits.
In a statement, FNS tells 11Alive:
FNS continues to work with the State to help identify various waivers and options to assist in relieving some of the administrative burden. American Rescue Plan Act funding is available to assist with recruitment and retention strategies, if needed.