AUSTIN (KXAN) — She was on hold for more than two hours trying to connect with someone with 2-1-1, a social service hotline.
She sent an email to KXAN saying she was working to get an application processed for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
“No one answers, we are only hold for more than two hours to help an elderly person and no one answers,” wrote the viewer. “We went to a community partner in east Austin to pick up a paper application and they did not have any to give out.”
KXAN investigators have been hearing from families frustrated about delays in getting SNAP food benefits.
A mother of three sent an email saying she tried to renew her benefits but had to wait more than 60 days.
“I don’t have to eat but my kids do,” said the mother. “I know we really don’t matter but this isn’t right.”
She explained that her application was finally processed after KXAN investigators notified the state about her case.
Can’t log on
Others reported trouble logging onto their accounts to check their benefits or application status.
“When I try to hit YourTexasBenefits.com I get the same error,” said another KXAN viewer. “When I went to verify my account see what I’ve got, because I need to run to the store, that’s when I started running into this new problem.”
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) oversees SNAP.
Kelli Weldon, a press officer with the agency, said the logging on issue was fixed several hours after getting reports of problems last Monday.
As for the delays connected with 2-1-1, Weldon said SNAP applications each month have increased by 65 percent this year, which impacts wait times.
“Due to the Public Health Emergency, HHSC is experiencing increases in SNAP application volumes across the state. We recognize the importance of SNAP benefits and are working to process cases as quickly as possible,” Weldon said.
She explained that as of a week ago, the average time for a call to be answered was 49 minutes and 22 seconds. The agency said times vary by day.
The busiest call times for 2-1-1 are Mondays, with higher call volumes at the beginning of the month. Less busy times include at the end of the week, before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Pay increases to help with staffing shortages
In addition to the increase in applications, the state also pointed to staffing shortages impacting processing times.
“In an effort to increase staffing levels, we have implemented workforce recruitment and retention initiatives including job fairs and pay increases,” Weldon said.
HHSC is also implementing flexible schedule options for those who qualify.
Last month, SNAP interview requirements were waived, and approval was given to extend the current renewal process.
KXAN investigators have repeatedly requested an interview regarding the backlog and other concerns, but the agency said it won’t be able to accommodate anything on-camera.
What can you do?
The agency recommends people still call 2-1-1 to receive a referral for available resources and programs or go online to YourTexasBenefits.com to check the status of an application.
Families can also access the agency’s community partner, Feeding Texas, to find local food bank information.
If you have a complaint or concerns, you can contact the Office of the Ombudsman at 1-877-787-8999.
The state said Texans can also appeal an action taken on their case by calling 2-1-1 (1-877-541-7905) or by sending a letter to Texas Health and Human Services Commission, PO Box 149027, Austin, Texas 78714-9027. You must include, (1) full name, (2) case number, (3) address, and (4) phone number, if you have one.