10,000 Waiting for Food Stamps in SF East Bay

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A class action claims Alameda County’s failure to process food stamp requests within the time required by law has caused a backlog of more than 10,000 people waiting for food assistance.
     Lead plaintiff Donald Ray Lilley slapped the county, its board of supervisors and social services agency director Lori Cox with a federal class action Tuesday.
     The lawsuit claims the county violates state and federal laws that require it to process applications for CalFresh food stamp benefits within 30 days. The law also requires the county to decide on eligibility for people in emergency situations within three days.
     “The county has a longstanding policy, pattern, practice and custom of failing and refusing to timely process CalFresh applications,” the 15-page lawsuit states.
     Alameda County, the seventh most populous county in California, has more than 1.5 million residents with a median household income of $67,000, according to 2010 census data. The East Bay county includes the cities of Oakland and Berkeley and had 12.9 percent of its residents living in poverty in 2013, according to a 2015 study by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies.
     The county ranked dead last among the state’s 58 counties for processing food stamp requests on time, according to a state Department of Social Services report on processing times between August 2014 and July 2015.
     Alameda County’s most recent data shows 10,657 CalFresh applications pending with no decision rendered at the end of July.
     Lilley, a disabled Livermore resident, gets general assistance benefits from the government but lacks the funds needed to buy food after he pays rent each month, according to the complaint. He applied for CalFresh benefits on Aug. 7 but had not received word on his application as of Sept. 29 when the suit was filed.
     Co-plaintiff Jarvis Johnson, a 53-year-old disabled Oakland resident, receives $336 per month in general assistance. After paying rent and utilities, Johnson is left with only $10 to spend on food and other essentials each month.
     Johnson applied for food stamps on Sept. 10 and requested an expedited response on Sept. 21. He was still waiting for a decision on Sept. 29, according to the complaint.
     A third plaintiff, Berkeley resident Daniel Mallory, lost his job and had wages withheld by his employer, the suit claims. He applied for benefits on Sept. 3, indicating that his housing costs exceed his income and resources. However, he was still waiting for a response to his application 25 days later, the complaint claims.
     The county processed an average 19.4 percent of applications late over the last year according to county records cited in the complaint, and its data-keeping system is not set up to correctly record stats on the lateness of expedited food stamp requests according to a county food stamp handbook cited in the complaint.
     That discrepancy leads the plaintiffs to conclude that delays in processing expedited food stamp requests are “even worse than the data reported” by the county, the complaint says.
     The plaintiffs seek class certification, a declaration and a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to force the county to process applications within state and federal mandated timelines.
     They are represented by Lauren Hansen of the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland.
     The county’s food assistance webpage states: “If you qualify for CalFresh, you will receive benefits no later than 30 days from the date the office received your application. If you have very little or no income and less than $100 in cash, you may be eligible to receive CalFresh within three days.”
     Individuals earning $1,946 or less per month and three-person households earning $3,300 or less each month qualify for food stamp benefits, according to the county’s website.
     Alameda County doles out an average of $149.79 per person and $295 per household in food stamp benefits each month, according to its website.
     The Alameda County Administrator’s Office could not be reached for comment after business hours on Tuesday.

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