Lawsuit Exposes Missouri’s Failure to Provide SNAP Benefits, Denying Food Aid to Thousands
MISSOURI — The National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, and Stinson LLP filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Empower Missouri and two low-income Missourians against the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) and Acting Director Robert Knodell. Read the full complaint here.
If you are an individual or family seeking assistance, please contact Legal Services of Eastern Missouri at the Food Stamp Hotline at 314-256-8739 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many years, families applying for SNAP benefits have faced challenges accessing DSS; however, these challenges escalated with the onset of the pandemic. As a result, thousands of eligible households are unlawfully deprived of their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits each month.
“I am 55 years old and live in St. Louis, Missouri. I am a Black woman. I have throat cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). My COPD symptoms make it hard for me to leave home. I rely on SNAP to purchase food. I do not have a car or other means of reliable transportation, and I have to pay for rides when I need to leave home. I do not have Internet access. At the beginning of January, I tried to call DSS three times for help. I was not able to reach anyone. I tried to call DSS one last time on February 10, 2022. I answered all of the required questions again and was placed in line. The automated system said that there were 468 people ahead of me. I waited for approximately an hour and a half, and then I hung up because I was almost out of pre-paid phone minutes. I received a notice that my SNAP application was denied in February. Not having SNAP has been really hard. I hardly have any food to eat,” stated Ms. Mary Holmes.
The lawsuit alleges:
- All SNAP applicants are routed to a central call center, but the call center is drastically understaffed.
- All SNAP applicants must complete an interview to receive their benefits—using the overloaded call center.
- Call queues contain hundreds of people. Many SNAP applicants wait for hours only to be disconnected before having a chance to interview.
- In September, October, and December of 2021, more than 50% of rejected applications were denied because applicants could not complete an interview.
- Applicants must answer a series of automated questions—questions they have already asked and answered in their applications—before they can get in line to speak to DSS staff, thus further burdening applicants.
- DSS in-person office operations are insufficient, including limited hours, limited operations, and no COVID-19 safety protocols, even during the delta and omicron waves.
- The situation is even worse for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires DSS to accommodate the disabilities of individuals who need one to access SNAP, but there is no way to request such accommodation without navigating the overloaded call center.
“SNAP is essential—everyone needs to eat. The hunger crisis brought on by COVID is ongoing.”
Katharine Deabler-Meadows, Staff Attorney, National Center for Law and Economic Justice
“Our clients and their children are not getting the food they desperately need, solely because they cannot reach anyone at our state agency. For our clients and all Missourians who need SNAP benefits to put food on the table, we need a system that works.”
Katherine Holley, Staff Attorney, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri
“Access to food is important to all Missourians—and vital to the hundreds of thousands who rely on SNAP benefits. We are determined to join our partners in helping make this access real.”
Andrew J. Scavotto, Partner, Stinson LLP
“Hundreds of thousands of Missourians rely on SNAP to feed their families every month. It is inexcusable that individuals who are struggling to make ends meet face additional barriers enrolling in SNAP because of Missouri’s Department of Social Services. It is imperative that DSS ensures that all Missouri families have access to the nutrition they need.”
Mallory Rusch, Executive Director, Empower Missouri
The National Center for Law and Economic Justice advances racial and economic justice through ground-breaking impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri provides free legal services to low-income Missourians in 21 counties of eastern Missouri, in order to improve lives, promote fairness, and create opportunities for those in need.
Stinson LLP is a full-service business law firm with nearly 450 attorneys who serve clients nationwide from its 12 offices in the Midwest, Mountain West, and Southwest, and in Washington, D.C. Specifically, Stinson provides a complete range of services to clients who need to interact with government at all levels, including businesses, trade associations, nonprofits, and citizens’ groups.
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