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Staffing shortages possibly to blame for ‘abhorrent’ food stamp call center wait times

Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 9:36 PM CST
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MISSOURI (KMOV.com) -- News 4 Investigates is getting answers about why so many Missourians say they’re going hungry.

Numerous people have reached out to News 4 in recent days, saying their food stamp benefits were being reduced or taken away and the stories are really tough to hear.

“I held on for three to four hours,” said Mary Holmes, who lost her benefits.

Missourians say they can’t reach anyone through the state’s call center about the food stamps program known as SNAP.

“It’s impossible, its literally impossible to talk to someone,” said Joseph Thorne.

Put perpetually on hold, even News 4 investigates couldn’t get through.

“How can that be, how can that be? That is not customer service,” said State Senator Jill Schupp. “It is abhorrent and shocking.”

She said the government is clearly failing to help people in need.

“I hold our administration accountable. We need to get these departments up to speed, people are going hungry,” said Schupp.

She said she’s learned nearly 75 percent of all calls to SNAP call centers in recent months never get through.

She said the centers are clearly understaffed.

“When you don’t pay people well in the state, they are going other places,” she said.

The Missouri Department of Social Services did not agree to an interview, but did confirm it has recently had a 20 percent turnover in call takers, saying despite efforts to recruit, the number of applicants it has received per job posting has decreased 72 percent between March 2020 and October 2021.

They hope a recent pay increase will help and note that people can go to their local DSS office in-person. News 4 visited two St. Louis-area DSS offices Friday and both had zero wait times.

“None of them run past 5 p.m., so if you are a working person, you can’t go there, none of them are open on the weekend,” said Schupp.

To fix the call center problems, she said people should contact their local representatives or the man whose face is on the state office doors.

“Call the governor’s office, let the governor know this is a real problem,” she said.

That’s exactly what joseph Thorne did.

“I told them I had gotten ahold of News 4 and I was actually on the news last night. And it really seemed to get their attention,” he said.

He was told there had been an error and it was fixed.

“It’s a relief, it’s definitely a relief, I will be able to make it now,” he said.

But with so many going hungry, he said the state’s excuses are just not enough.

“They are short staffed, I understand that but there is still more that needs to be done,” Thorne said.

You can contact your local state senator or representative here.

Senator Schupp’s office said it could also assist. Her office’s phone number is 573-751-9762.

The number for Gov. Mike Parson’s office is 573-751-3222.

You can look up your local DSS office here. Be sure to check hours before you arrive.

Should you want to assist those in need, a list of organizations focused on hunger and other needs can be found here.