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‘I am scared’; Hungry & desperate Missourians say they cannot reach anyone at Food Stamps Department

Staffing shortages possibly to blame for 'abhorrent' food stamp call center wait times
Staffing shortages possibly to blame for 'abhorrent' food stamp call center wait times
Updated: Feb. 24, 2022 at 4:23 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Soaring food prices and the pandemic have been bad enough, but now people who rely on food stamps are telling News 4 they’re facing a new nightmare: the state of Missouri.

Just within the last few days, News 4 has been inundated with people reaching out about their food stamp benefits, which are being severely reduced or taken away all together, and they cannot reach anyone at the state to help them.

“It looks scary, it looks really scary,” said Justin Thorne. His kitchen cupboards are almost bare. “I have got some noodles here and a couple cans of stew.”

Disabled and recently recovering from surgery Thorne told News 4 he’d been receiving food stamps for years through a program often referred to as SNAP. But, recently he was told the state benefit was being severely reduced.

“$10 a week, can you survive on $10 a week?” Thorne said. He absolutely cannot, however, get through to Missouri’s Department of Social Services.

“I called them three different times and exactly four hours into the conversation, it disconnects you. Is there no one who works there, I am not really sure,” Thorne said.

On food stamps since 1984, Mary Holmes also recently and suddenly found herself completely cut off from Missouri’s SNAP. Facing impossible wait times, she can’t get through.

“There were 692 people in front of me,” Holmes said. News 4 Investigates also could not get anyone on the phone Thursday.

Preparing some of the last of her food, Holmes told News 4 she’s hungry and afraid.

“It’s frustrating, its stressful, it’s something I have never been through,” Holmes said.

Attorney Katherine Deabler-Meadows is part of a legal team now suing the state over this.”This is having severe, dire, real-world consequences for people in Missouri.”

She told News 4 problems with the snap program have persisted for years but may have intensified during the pandemic. “There is no explanation that gets rid of their legal obligation to people who need SNAP,” Deabler-Meadows said.

News 4 Investigates wanted to talk with the state about the sudden cuts in benefits and why the state is leaving people on hold. A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services would only tell us they couldn’t comment on the pending litigation.

“I am kind of scared, really, there is no one to get angry at, because no one answers their phones,” Thorne said. “I am scared, what am I going to do to survive?”

News 4 Investigates will continue to follow this issue. You can contact us at Investigates@KMOV.com.