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City Limits: New Yorkers See Uneven Improvement in Food Stamp, Cash Assistance Delays

NYLAG’s Deborah Berkman spoke to City Limits about the uneven improvements in application processing times experienced by tens of thousands of New Yorkers who receive cash assistance and food stamps, after a class action lawsuit filed by NYLAG and the Legal Aid Society in January 2023.

‘“If you get cash assistance, you are caught up in really significant delays, in a way that you would not be if you were only receiving SNAP,’ said Katie Kelleher of the Legal Aid Society, a lead attorney on a federal lawsuit compelling the city to improve its processing times. 

“Under federal and state law, all SNAP and cash assistance applications and recertification must be processed by HRA, part of the Department of Social Services (DSS), within 30 days. Currently, about 1.7 million New Yorkers rely on SNAP. A minority of them—north of 480,000—also receive cash, according to June data. 

“The city is now under orders to eliminate its application and recertification backlogs for both SNAP and cash assistance by March 2024, per a July injunction signed by Manhattan Federal Court Judge Jennifer Rearden. It’s part of the class action lawsuit filed in January by Kelleher’s team and New York Legal Assistance Group, alleging that city officials were leaving New Yorkers without benefits to which they were entitled. 

“In January the city revealed that it had promptly processed less than half, 42.3 percent, of SNAP applications (including SNAP-only and those associated with a cash assistance case) between July and October of last year—down from around 92 percent of applications in fiscal year 2021—and just over half of cash applications in the same period. SNAP timeliness was 49.8 percent for the month of April, according to HRA… 

“HRA has two distinct systems for processing benefits, advocates explained. SNAP-only cases are processed at SNAP Centers, while Benefits Access Centers handle joint cases involving cash assistance, SNAP and Medicaid. 

“’If you apply for [cash assistance], you are automatically going to be screened for SNAP and Medicaid and you’re likely going to get SNAP and Medicaid,’ said Deborah Berkman, a supervising attorney with the Public Benefits Unit at New York Legal Assistance Group. There are certain exceptions for people with private insurance, or who are not U.S. citizens, she noted.” 

Read the full piece by Julia Goldberg and Emma Williford in City Limits from August 17, 2023.

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