Thousands waiting for Ramsey County emergency assistance

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There are thousands of people who’ve applied, but have not yet received, emergency assistance through the food nutrition program known as “SNAP” and a direct financial services program.

That backlog, according to Ramsey County leaders, started to happen back in November.

The Ramsey County dashboard for emergency services showed, as of Tuesday, there were 5,750 people who applied for the assistance, but were still waiting to hear back from the county.

St. Paul resident, Patti Hopkins, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she applied for emergency assistance through SNAP and the direct financial services program in mid-December and has not yet talked with a case worker and has not received any benefits.

“I would say [I feel] mad and frustrated,” said Hopkins. “I have to get to food shelves, I have to get rides to food shelves, take a bus to a food shelf, which isn’t easy. It’s been very frustrating.”

Hopkins said she’s called Ramsey County several times, and the last call she made a county employee told her the application process might have missed her.

“And, I asked the lady, I said ‘I never heard anything’ and she said ‘it looks to me like they might have just skipped right over you somehow’ and that I wasn’t the only person it was happening to,” said Hopkins.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher sent a letter Monday to the full Ramsey County Board of Commissioners urging them to take action because increase in crimes, such as theft and burglaries, tend to go up when people face great economic strains.

“Timely and reliable financial assistance for food and other benefits is one of the most important ‘upstream’ crime prevention efforts that Ramsey County can provide,” Fletcher said in the letter.

Ramsey County Board Chair, Trista MatasCastillo, told KSTP the backlog is not acceptable and it is now a “high priority” for the county’s administration to fix the problem and get those services to the public as quickly as possible.

“Absolutely. It’s a high priority. We had our first workshop on this in November and we gave direction to the County Manager and staff to say that we have to get a handle on this and we need to address it,” said MatasCastillo.

MatasCastillo said, since the pandemic started to wind down, the number of applicants for the SNAP and direct financial services programs had surged exponentially and the county does not have enough staff to handle the higher volume of applications.

“It created this huge backlog which is a huge problem and is something that the County Board has been aware of, we’ve been tracking, it’s been a huge concern of mine about the work that we’re doing. We have to get resources to our community as quickly as possible,” said MatasCastillo.

MatasCastillo said the county has hired some part-time employees from other counties to help reduce the current backlog.

“I don’t think there’s anything I can say that’s going to make them [applicants] feel better when we’re in a crisis situation, when we need financial resources, it’s urgent and imperative,” said MatasCastillo.