ATLANTA — The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has lifted a warning against the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) over the speed at which the agency processed applications for food assistance. This comes as the result of significant improvements made over the past two years.

In a recent letter, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) commended DFCS staff “for your dedication to improving the State’s timeliness rate and customer service” and said it is releasing Georgia from an “advance warning” initially issued in February 2014, with new requirements issued in May 2015. An advance warning letter from FNS alerts a state agency that it is at risk of receiving a formal warning if it does not achieve compliance with statutory requirements relating to the timeliness of application processing; a formal warning can result in the suspension of federal funds.

In early 2014, DFCS was struggling with a backlog of applications for assistance from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) - formerly referred to as food stamps – and other issues hindering access to benefits. In May 2015, FNS praised DFCS for eliminating the backlog but added that “concerns remain with Georgia’s long-term trends in overall application processing timeliness.” Those concerns have since been addressed and DFCS is no longer under a warning, according to FNS.

DFCS Director Bobby Cagle credits this achievement to the work of the DFCS Office of Family Independence (OFI), which is led by DFCS Deputy Director Jon Anderson and oversees eligibility programs, including SNAP, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid and Child Care.

“Jon and his team are committed to improving the quality and timeliness of service delivery within all OFI programs, and they are doing a remarkable job,” said Cagle. “The release of the FNS warning is a result of their hard work, dedication and effectiveness.”

OFI also received kudos from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal in a letter sent to the agency this fall.

Gov. Deal noted specific examples:

  • In April 2016, 97 percent of SNAP recipients received their benefits in a timely manner, compared to just 77 percent in April 2015.
  • The accuracy rate in processing SNAP applications has improved from 93.5 percent to better than 95 percent in one year’s time.
  • The timeliness rates for providing TANF are consistently above 95 percent, and OFI is close to achieving those same results in the Medicaid program.

Cagle has made significant organizational changes aimed at improving the way OFI helps low-income families since being appointed to the position by Gov. Deal in June 2014. He implemented the “One Caseworker, One Family” practice model to ensure that families are able to work with a single caseworker within their community throughout the process of applying for, receiving and/or renewing benefits.  This approach enables local DFCS offices to focus on a family’s needs in a personalized and timely manner and to be accountable for the customer service they receive from start to finish. Previously, 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.

“The change has been well received by the local communities, and I applaud your efforts to improve customer service,” said Deal.