The offices of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services are seen in Juneau on Friday, July 1, 2022. The department is being split into two separate agencies. (Photo by Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)
An Anchorage resident filed a class action lawsuit this week seeking to force the state Division of Public Assistance to get cash assistance to vulnerable Alaskans in a timely manner.
Natilia Edwards filed her complaint with the Northern Justice Project, a civil rights firm.
This class action lawsuit comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed against the Department of Health earlier this year; 10 Alaskans sued the state because the division’s backlog caused an unlawfully long wait for food stamps.
The backlog in the Division of Public Assistance has most notably kept thousands of Alaskans waiting on food stamps and Medicaid, but it is affecting the other programs the division manages as well. Adult Public Assistance is a cash benefit for elderly, blind and disabled Alaskans that is intended to help them live independently.
“These are our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Northern Justice Project attorney Nick Feronti. “The blind, the disabled, and the elderly aren’t getting access to help they need.”
The state is legally required to process Adult Public Assistance applications in 30 days. Feronti said data shows that it’s taking more than twice that long. He said about 8,500 people have applied for cash assistance this fiscal year; the state has completed about a third of the applications on time.
“We aren’t asking for money. The state can’t make it up to them. People are literally going without food or gas money,” said Feronti. “We want a judge to order the state to drop everything and fix this.”
Department of Health spokesperson Shirley Young said in an email that the division has been making progress, but it isn’t processing applications within a desirable timeframe. She said the department has taken major steps to address the delays in all of its programs. It’s in the process of hiring and training 30 new application processing employees and has contracted workers to answer phone calls.
The state declined to comment on the litigation itself:
“The State of Alaska has recently become aware of this complaint and is waiting to be served with the court documents. The Department of Law cannot comment on the substance of the lawsuit until it is received,” wrote Communications Director Patty Sullivan.
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