The wait for people to get on public assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps can be a long one in Alaska. So long, in fact, the State Ombudsman recently wrote a report that said the Office of Public Assistance was breaking the law by taking too long to process applications.

Walter Rowland may have assumed he was caught up in that backlog. Rowland, who is legally blind and has a number of debilitating medical conditions, said his Medicaid payments were weeks late and his food stamps for May never showed up.

He said repeated calls to the Public Assistance Office went unreturned.

Rowland is not alone.

Indianna Turkisher is a SNAP outreach worker for the Food Bank of Alaska. She said they've been hearing from many people who say their benefits aren't being processed or renewed.

"We have a volunteer at Bean's Cafe who is providing application assistance and she called me about half a dozen times in an hour to check on case statuses of clients who are trying to see where their benefits are," said Turkisher.

Monica Windom, director of Public Assistance for the state, said the agency has a backlog of applications that is more than 20,000.

A recent legislative request to fund more workers for the department was halved from 41 down to 20. Even so, Windom is hopeful that more workers, combined with program reforms, can help them catch up.

"We are working on those things and hope once we get these 20 people hired and trained we will be able to make more progress," said Windom.

As for Walter Rowland, he got some good news on Thursday. After weeks of waiting, he was told he could expect his benefits to be available on Friday morning.

Others who are still waiting may want to contact the Food Bank of Alaska at, 907-222-3119 or toll-free 1-844-222-3119. Workers there can help people find out the status of their applications as well as point them to other resources while they wait.

Questions or comments about this story? Email reporter Lauren Maxwell.

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