Oregonians are applying for social services assistance at historic levels, according to the state Department of Human Services.
This increased need created by the COVID-19 pandemic has exceeded the agency’s ability to serve the public with its current staff. As a result, many Oregonians are experiencing delays in getting their applications for services processed and extended call wait-times up to an hour.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon Health Plan enrollment has increased by approximately 26%. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has increased by 10%, and enrollment in Employment Related Day Care has increased by 25%.
The agency said many of its applications are still being processed within two business days, but about 31,000 applications have been delayed past their processing deadline. Call wait times to the department are averaging up to 62 minutes.
“Coming into the COVID-19 pandemic life was difficult for many of our clients, especially people of color, Oregon Tribal Nations, people with disabilities and older adults,” Department of Human Services Director Fariborz Pakseresht said in a press release. “We know that delays in processing applications for supports and services can cause more hardship and trauma for the people we serve. That is why we are committed to doing everything we can to process applications and the backlog in cases as quickly as possible.”
The department is planning to ask lawmakers at the February 2022 legislative session for more funding to hire staff, specifically to address the increase in state health plan caseloads. The national standard for this type of work is a ratio of 1 eligibility worker to 800 cases. With the recent increase in cases, Oregon is currently operating at double that rate, according to DHS.
In the meantime, the department is increasing hiring efforts to fill existing positions, hiring contract workers, and temporarily shifting existing workers to process eligibility applications.
Human services offered a few pieces of advice for Oregonians who may need to apply for benefits or who may be waiting to hear back from the state about the status of their benefits:
- Compile all documents you think you might need before you begin an application. This can prevent an application from being held up.
- If you have already submitted an application, you do not need to reapply. The Department of Human Services said it will process received applications as quickly as possible.
- If you applied through DHS’ ONE online portal, you can track your application’s status using the same system you used to apply.