ATLANTA- Based on the Stipulation and Order of Settlement in Melanie K, et al. v. Horton, Civil Action File No. 1:14-CV-710-WSD, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, a class action lawsuit, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) is providing retroactive food stamp benefits to certain households that are eligible based on this settlement. Benefit entitlement notices were mailed to the eligible families on January 8, 2016. An electronic version of the notices were also posted on the affected families’ “My COMPASS account”.
To assist citizens in determining if they are among those entitled, DFCS has established a toll-free number and dedicated web page. They may visit: www.dhs.georgia.gov/office-inspector-general or call 1-855-632-9035. Both systems require that the Client Identification (ID) or Food Stamp Assistance Unit (AU) number be entered. This information can be found on any recent food stamp correspondence sent to the household. Local DFCS offices and the DFCS Call Center will not be able to confirm eligibility, so anyone potentially entitled should utilize the dedicated web page or toll-free number no later than January 31, 2016.
The one-time retroactive benefits are being provided as a result of a provision in the settlement of a class action lawsuit filed against the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) in early 2014 alleging that applications and renewals for food stamps were not processed in a timely manner thus resulting in applicants being incorrectly denied. The food stamp program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a federally-funded program that provides monthly benefits to low-income households to pay for food. In Georgia, the food stamp program is administered by DFCS, a division of DHS.
The U.S. District Court in August 2015 approved the settlement, which was agreed upon by DHS and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, representing the settlement class. On November 19, 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees SNAP, acquiesced to the plan for the providing retroactive benefits. During the scope of this lawsuit, October 2013 through December 2014, DFCS issued a total of over $3.5 Billion in SNAP Benefits to an average of 842,000 households each month. This lawsuit will affect 47,760 households, who will receive an average of $463 per household.
DFCS Director Bobby Cagle, who was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal in June 2014, has been making organizational changes to improve the quality and timeliness of service delivery to those seeing economic assistance through DFCS’s Office of Family Independence (OFI), which oversees eligibility programs, including food stamps. In August 2015, he implemented the “One Caseworker, One Family” practice model to ensure that families will be able to work with a single caseworker within their community throughout the process of applying for, receiving and/or renewing benefits. At the time of the class action lawsuit, filed prior to Cagle’s appointment, the eligibility process was centralized at the state level and required applicants to deal with multiple staff members, each responsible for just one portion of a case.