Department of Health explains cause of delayed SNAP benefits


JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) – A representative of the Department of Health spoke Tuesday at the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, providing an update on lengthy benefit delays facing many Alaskans.

“There’s sort of three high-level causes for the backlog, and that’s due to the legacy IT systems, a cyber attack that delayed the planned improvements to those IT systems, and the burden of the pandemic that required additional manual processing of benefits to eligible Alaskans,” Acting Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health Heidi Hedberg said to the committee.

According to a slide shown during Hedberg’s presentation, the May 2021 cyber attack on department databases required existing staff to focus their efforts on recovery and analysis of the attack, delaying the implementation of a new information technology system.

The legacy IT system currently in use is based on COBOL, a programming language that was originally created in 1959. According to Hedberg, it takes over 40 minutes to process one application for an eligibility technician using the COBOL-based system.

One part of working through the SNAP delays is to transfer to a new IT system more capable of handling the processing of applications, and to hire contractors that can pick up some of the slack on the processing of said applications.

Although the department is working towards a solution, they did not say when they would be able to get through the backlog of SNAP applications.

“I would love to tell you a timeframe, but I don’t know how accurate it is going to be,” Hedberg said. “I think once these contracts are signed — they’re not signed yet — I think we’ll have a better estimate and that we can follow up and let you guys know.”

Hedberg also took the opportunity to publicize available job openings with the department, which are listed on the Workplace Alaska website.


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