Alaska News

Plaintiffs’ deal with state of Alaska pauses lawsuit over food stamps backlog

JUNEAU — Ten Alaskans impacted by monthslong food stamp delays agreed to pause a class-action lawsuit against the state of Alaska, with the state Department of Health pledging to clear 50% of the backlog by mid-October.

The lawsuit was filed in January on behalf of thousands of Alaskans who had waited months to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps. Under federal law, states must provide food stamps to eligible applicants no later than 30 days after an application is made.

The state met with attorneys for the 10 plaintiffs last week and reached an agreement to stay the federal lawsuit until Oct. 31. The agreement states that pausing the lawsuit would be “the most efficient and quickest path” to providing relief.

Both parties filed a joint 11-page agreement Tuesday before federal Judge Sharon Gleason, which laid out the benchmarks the state pledged to meet to clear the backlog:

• The Department of Health agreed to clear at least 50% of the current backlog by Oct. 20, and have fewer than 100 recertification cases by June 1. At the end of April, the agency reported a backlog of 10,598 initial applications and recertification requests.

[Alaska food banks still ‘inundated’ as state works to fix food stamp backlog]

• The department pledged to double the amount of time food stamp recipients are eligible for benefits from six months to one year. Vulnerable recipients could get food stamps for two years, up from 12 months.


• The state pledged to get adequate staffing in place to process applications in a timely manner and has entered negotiations with 75 contract workers who would assist taking calls at the state’s virtual call center, which would resume processing food stamp applications.

• Department of Health officials and attorneys for the plaintiffs pledged to meet again before Oct. 6 “to explore possible comprehensive settlement of this litigation.”

Nick Feronti, a Northern Justice Project attorney representing the Alaskans waiting for food aid, said in an interview Wednesday that the agreement was “a good result” for the thousands of Alaskans waiting for relief. If the state did not meet its benchmarks, the case would proceed, he said.

Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg said in a prepared statement that the department appreciated the collaboration with the plaintiffs to reach the agreement, which she said reflected a commitment to clear the backlog.

“We are improving our processing practices and infrastructure, in order to improve timely decision-making for Alaskan SNAP beneficiaries,” she said.

[State agency serving vulnerable Alaskans declines to take new cases amid staffing crisis]

The federal government issued a stern warning in March that penalties could be imposed on the state without prompt action to clear the food stamp backlog. State officials have attributed the delays to staff shortages and a 2021 cyberattack that disrupted online services for months.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration requested $54 million in the capital budget to overhaul the state’s antiquated IT system used to process applications. Insiders at the Department of Health said that the agency’s problems stretch back long before Dunleavy took office in 2018, pointing partly to staffing cuts at the Division of Public Assistance.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at