(Anchorage, AK) – The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over delayed food stamp benefits and the Department of Health (“DOH”) have reached a preliminary agreement to put litigation on hold temporarily while the Division of Public Assistance continues its efforts to clear the backlog in food stamp application processing.
After a settlement conference attended by the counsel for both parties, as well as Department of Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg and Division of Public Assistance Director Deb Etheridge, the parties have agreed to a six-month stay of litigation as the most efficient path for resolving problems and getting critical food benefits out to Alaskans. The agreement to stay the litigation is contingent on the Division meeting specific benchmarks in its ongoing efforts to clear the backlog as well as making improvements to the Virtual Call Center and public access to Division offices.
In addition, the plaintiffs and DOH have agreed to ask the Court to certify two classes of plaintiffs. If approved by the Court, this would include class certification for people who have experienced delayed processing of their food stamp cases and had difficulty filing applications for food stamp benefits.
Food stamps—also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”)—is a federally-funded program that provides benefits to low-income households to use for food purchases. This lawsuit, entitled Kamkoff v. Hedberg, U.S. District Court Case No. 3:23-cv-00044-SLG, arose in part out of the State’s backlog in processing SNAP applications. This delay resulted in qualified households waiting to receive benefits well beyond the timelines set by federal regulations governing the program.
Regarding the settlement, Department of Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg stated: “Alaska is committed to taking the necessary steps to resolve this backlog and get benefits to Alaskans who need them. We are continuing to hire more employees and bring on additional support. We are improving our processing practices and infrastructure, in order to improve timely decision-making for Alaskan SNAP beneficiaries. We appreciate the plaintiffs’ collaboration in reaching this agreement, which reflects the Department’s ongoing commitment to addressing the SNAP application backlog.”
Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor stated: “The State is doing everything it can to resolve this issue. There has been open communication between the State and the plaintiffs regarding the State’s ongoing efforts to resolve the SNAP backlog. The State and the plaintiffs share the goal of ensuring that eligible households receive SNAP benefits in a timely manner. We believe that pausing the litigation to allow the State to continue focusing on those efforts is the best way to advance that mutual goal.”
“These two agreements represent a positive step forward to ensure that Alaskans are able to access and receive critical food benefits. Our goal is to bring quick and meaningful improvements to people’s lives,” said Saima Akhtar, Senior Attorney for the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
The parties have also agreed to continue to communicate and work toward negotiating a final settlement during this six-month litigation hold. The stipulated agreement is available upon request tonight and will be posted on Law’s web in the morning.
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