Lawsuit alleges widespread problems in District food stamp implementation
Citing “systemic failures” in the implementation and administration of the food stamp program, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia recently joined Hogan Lovells and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in filing suit against the D.C. Department of Human Services. The lawsuit alleges that the DHS is failing its residents and violating the law mandating provision of SNAP benefits.
The most serious flaws in the operations of the Economic Security Administration date to the arrival of the D.C. Access System (DCAS), the new SNAP management program, in October 2016.
After that transition, according to the Aug. 28 press release from Legal Aid, application processing times quadrupled. In the three months after the introduction of DCAS, the Economic Security Administration missed the federally mandated 30 day processing deadline on 70 percent of new applications for aid. The Washington City Paper also reported major technical problems in the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card system – DCAS certified benefits as given when none had arrived – and frequent system outages coinciding with precipitation.
The aging previous computer system had been managing applications for food stamp aid since 1992. Despite warnings from the Department of Agriculture that DCAS was insufficiently tested for launch, DHS went ahead with the release.
The costs of these failures have been immediate and human: Bread for the City, a D.C. social services agency, saw 52 percent more requests for emergency food in October 2016 than in October 2015. The rate of food insecurity remained high this past May, when 40 percent more households than in the previous May came to Bread for the City for food assistance.
As far back as 2015, Legal Aid testified that mismanagement in the agency was endangering its stated “no wrong door” policy. Today, the chaos of the DCAS rollout has closed all doors to many in the District. The suit from Legal Aid and its partners aims to force DHS to radically overhaul its administration of the food stamp program in the name of compliance with the federal law that established it.