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THE INVESTIGATORS: DCFS promises to catch everyone as DSNAP window closes

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 4:35 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 5:15 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - For weeks, the folks over at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) have been working around the clock to try and get disaster benefits out to those who need them following Hurricane Ida. From the moment those phone lines opened up, state workers have been swamped but leaders promise to catch every single applicant before the expanded window closes at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“It has definitely not been an easy process. It truly has been a marathon,” said DCFS Assistant Secretary Shavana Howard.

In the first week, hold times ballooned to more than two hours and workers answered more than 109,000 calls. In the weeks that followed, they were able to shave the wait time down to less than two minutes.

“I called over 100 times. I called the Wednesday which was my assigned letter day and then I called Friday and I called Saturday and the waits, if you could get through, mostly I got busy signals,” said Suwan Steele.

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Many applicants like Steele reached out to the 9News Investigators saying they just could not get through when it was their turn to apply. Because of the backlogs, the state got federal approval to tack on an extra week to get as many benefits as possible out the door. In the final stretch of the extended window, Howard say overall, it’s been successful.

“We had some challenges as you know. We implemented our virtual hold process. We of course received an extension to continue DSNAP for this week and so there’s a lot of things we have done to make sure we did not let folks drop through the cracks,” said Howard.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the agency has been able to answer more than 275,000 calls, processing about 175,000 cases and pumping out right at $60 million in benefits. During the expanded timeframe, they have also beefed up their staff. They added workers from Texas and Oklahoma to help get them across the finish line.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked how many workers ended up answering phones with the addition of those extra employees.

“At our peak, it was a little over 1,200 workers,” Howard added.

When WAFB first started asking questions about how many callers had fallen through the cracks two weeks ago, leaders said that number was around 2,000. Within 48 hours, Howard says they were able to get that number down to 600 and now she is confident everyone who needs the help will be able to get through.

“Even if they go through the virtual hold, as long as they’re there by 6 p.m. they will,” said Howard. “It will cut off right after that time but as long as they are there by 6 p.m. we will call them back.”

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