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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

East Bay Ordered to Move Quicker on Food Stamps

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge slapped Alameda County with a permanent injunction on Monday, ordering its social services agency to process food stamps more quickly.

Lead plaintiff Donald Ray Lilley filed a class action against the county in September 2015, citing the county's backlog of more than 10,000 people waiting for food assistance.

Federal law requires that counties process applications for CalFresh food stamp benefits within 30 days and emergency food assistance requests within three days.

At the end of July 2015, the county had 10,657 pending CalFresh applications and ranked dead last among the state's 58 counties for processing requests on time over the last year, according to the state Department of Social Services.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge James Donato granted a request for a permanent injunction that orders the county to "comply fully within a margin of human error" with mandated timelines for determining food stamp eligibility.

The injunction also requires the county to submit monthly reports to the plaintiffs' counsel on the number of applications received, processed and those not assigned to a caseworker within seven days.

If the percentage of applications denied exceeds the percentage denied the prior month by more than 10 percent, the county must turn over a random sample of 30 cases to the plaintiffs' counsel to determine if those denials were properly issued.

"The concern in terms of tracking that number is just to make sure the number of denials doesn't spike and increase unnecessarily as the county tries to work through processing their applications," class counsel Lauren Hansen of the Public Interest Law Project said.

The injunction will remain in place at least one year.

Before it can dissolve the injunction, the county must show it has fully complied with the order for six consecutive months and demonstrate it has a plan to meet timelines for processing applications in the future.

"That's important because of the long history of being out of compliance," Hansen said. "It's important they have a plan so they don't slip back inadvertently into processing applications late."

Hansen said county was out of compliance for at least four years and refused to take steps to improve its processing times before her clients filed the class action last year.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the county decreased the percentage of applications it processed late from around 23 percent in May 2015 to 13 percent in January this year, Hansen said.

"That's a great improvement, but they'll need to do more work to get that down even further," she said.

Filing the class action was necessary, Hansen added, because hunger can exacerbate health problems for individuals and families waiting on food assistance.

A representative for the Alameda County Social Services Agency did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday morning.

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