Ill-timed computer glitch causes drop in Illinois food stamp rolls

Ill-timed computer glitch causes drop in Illinois food stamp rolls

Some SNAP-dependent households saw their benefits disappear this holiday season.

Tens of thousands of food-assisted homes in Illinois have gone without their benefits this holiday season, due to an ill-timed computer system failure.

On Dec. 21, state officials announced that food stamp benefits would be restored to families who saw their food assistance cancelled, according to WAND-TV.

In November, more than 40,000 households lost their food assistance benefits due to a computer glitch. While some recipients’ access to benefits has been recovered, the Chicago Tribune reports that as of December, more than 30,000 dependent households remained without assistance.

This is the consequence of a computer system upgrade state officials began in 2013, according to the Tribune. The second phase of the upgrade’s rollout was initiated in October 2017. While the upgrade is intended as an improvement on the system that administers food stamp benefits, it’s now a source of pain for households who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, for food assistance.

SNAP, or food stamps, recipients are required to submit applications every six months to recertify eligibility. But due to a complication with the upgrade, files for many who applied or reapplied within the last two months had failed to convert to the new system. The applicants whose files got lost in the overhaul lost their food assistance, according to the Tribune.

The Illinois Department of Human Services, or DHS, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing more than 2,400 human services caseworkers in Illinois, have offered conflicting accounts as to what, or who, is responsible for this consequential computer failure.

The damage done

According to DHS, nearly 1 million Illinois households were receiving food stamps in 2017 as of September, the most recent month for which data is available. This number nearly doubles when measuring SNAP assistance by person, with nearly 2 million Illinoisans dependent on SNAP benefits, according to DHS.

As a percentage of population, 14.5 percent of Illinoisans are enrolled in SNAP, a larger share than in each of Illinois’ neighboring states with the exception of Kentucky, which leads Illinois by a fraction of a percentage point.

The number of SNAP-dependent households in Illinois has increased nearly 14 percent since the start of the decade.

That Illinois has managed to add households to its SNAP rolls since the Great Recession’s recovery period casts a dark cloud over the Land of Lincoln’s economic climate. It’s evident that Illinoisans are struggling. This is due, in part, to Springfield’s failure to address the state’s ongoing fiscal dysfunction.

Rather than enacting meaningful reforms that would help the state to get its finances in order, lawmakers have routinely elected to gouge taxpayers and businesses as an ill-fated attempt to plug revenue shortfalls.

This approach has dramatically backfired. Net outmigration from Illinois to other states continues to shrink its tax base while an uninviting business climate encourages employers to pass up the Land of Lincoln for competing states. This means less opportunity for struggling Illinoisans.

The road ahead

Policymakers can help alleviate poverty by adopting a legislative agenda that encourages economic growth and enables Illinoisans stuck at the bottom to escape dependence.

Jobs growth would provide a far better path out of SNAP dependence than an unexpected system malfunction.

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