Our Fight to Secure SNAP Benefits for Low-income Communities

Food insecurity remains a major problem across the nation and particularly impacts children, low-wage workers, and people with disabilities. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—originally created as the Food Stamp Program during the Great Depression—is the largest federal nutrition assistance program in the country. Access to this economic lifeline is vital: SNAP helps more than 41 million Americans each year stave off hunger and severe poverty by providing monthly financial support to purchase food. The National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) is a national leader in ensuring that low-income families and individuals can apply for and receive the SNAP benefits they are legally owed. We have helped tens of thousands of families access the benefits they need to prevent hunger and malnutrition.

Many people who need and are entitled to SNAP do not receive it because state agencies create unlawful barriers that prevent them from obtaining benefits. Our systemic litigation program forces states to improve their internal systems so that states issue more benefits to more people, because a policy without proper implementation leaves marginalized communities and children hungry.

Here is an overview of some of our SNAP work across several states:

Alaska: In January 2023, NCLEJ filed a lawsuit challenging Alaska’s failure to provide SNAP benefits to vulnerable communities. The state processed only 57% of initial SNAP applications, 42.8% of expedited applications, and 34.6% of recertification applications on time. Often, SNAP applicants could not communicate with the agency because the call center—the only way to reach the agency—had excruciatingly long wait times and frequently dropped calls. And the State fails to provide interpretation and translation services for more than 13,000 Alaskans who need services in languages other than English. In May, NCLEJ agreed to temporarily pause the litigation in return for the DoH halving its 10,598 person SNAP backlog within six months. The State cleared its backlog by the end of September, issuing approximately $6.6M in SNAP benefits because of NCLEJ intervention. Unfortunately, the State developed a new backlog of more recently filed cases, demonstrating a continued need for court intervention. The litigation continues as we press for a permanent fix.

Missouri: As in Alaska and many other states, Missouri routes all SNAP applicants through an overloaded call center. Thousands of people cannot complete the application process—and are denied benefits—because of failed technology and understaffing. In July 2023 alone, the call center deflected 64,053 calls to the SNAP interview line, and the state denied 10,349 applications (54%) for failure to complete the interview. In May 2024, NCLEJ achieved a major victory in our federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Social Services over their massive SNAP backlog. A district court judge ruled that the State’s practices – including long call center wait times, wrongful denials of benefits, and lack of disability accommodations – violate the laws governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision orders the State to come into legal compliance and outlines steps the agency must take under the Court’s supervision.  

Georgia: NCLEJ sued Georgia for SNAP processing delays in 2013, which resulted in the return of $22M in SNAP benefits to 48,000 households. The 2015 class action settlement, which NCLEJ continues to monitor and enforce, required Georgia to improve processing times and to create an informal relief process for people who contact NCLEJ to request help. While the agency had steadily improved to 95% on-time processing in 2022, during 2023 their compliance nosedived. Because of the settlement, we could provide immediate assistance to class members. In November 2023, we set up a relief line for Georgians. We’ve already spoken to more than 1,400 people, of whom 250 were eligible for relief under the settlement. We continue to work with the state to get back on track and will go back to court if necessary.

Connecticut: NCLEJ’s work on the Briggs class-action lawsuit, filed in 2012, exemplifies the value of our work. The lawsuit set national precedent allowing SNAP recipients to sue to enforce their right to receive SNAP benefits on time. When we sued in 2012, Connecticut had the worst processing delays in the nation, but today, Connecticut processes 96% of SNAP applications on time.