Long Call Wait Times and Inaccessible Caseworkers for Tennessee’s Hungry

December 2022

Many Tennesseans are hungry and cannot access SNAP and not because they don’t qualify. An inefficient DHS Families First telephone system prevents many eligible individuals from accessing the SNAP program. To complete an application, a phone interview is required, but DHS caseworkers, often don’t call people at the scheduled time. And if an individual calls back to reschedule a missed interview, it is extremely difficult to get a caseworker on the phone to help. Instead, the SNAP applicant is often put into a long call queue, where call wait times can run over 2 hours.

One man from Davidson County faced these barriers when he was injured at work so severely that he had to quit his job and apply for disability and eventually SNAP. Before the accident, he made enough money to support himself and he owned his house. But soon after he lost his job, he lost his income and struggled to pay bills and buy food. He applied to SNAP and when he did not get a response, he called the SNAP office and was placed on hold for over an hour while they checked his information and eventually, he was told that he was not in their system. He was then put on hold again for another 45 minutes. It took over two months for him to finally get connected to SNAP.

Many people have contacted TJC to share their experience with the dysfunctional call center, often calling DHS to respond to a request from the DHS caseworker or to ask technical questions about necessary steps they must take to get or keep their SNAP benefits. One disabled mom with two children shared that the longest call wait time was 2 hours and 37 minutes. Another woman shared that her elderly aunt who had participated in SNAP for 10 years, lost her benefits because she could not get through to someone over the phone to resolve a simple issue that would have prevented her from losing SNAP.

Even once someone passes the hurdle of connecting with DHS for the required phone interview to get SNAP; if that individual wants to keep their SNAP, DHS requires that they recertify and again complete another phone interview. If an individual has any technical questions about their SNAP case, they are likely to wait hours, be put through to a voicemail that’s often not returned or wait for hours only to have their call dropped. The state is required to provide benefits to all eligible households who apply and are supposed to provide timely, accurate and fair services. But if you talk to many individuals who have tried to apply this is not their experience.

Can’t Get Through to the SNAP Call Center? Share Your Story!

“I know when I call the family assistance line, I will be put on hold for at the very least an hour.”

Have you or someone you know waited too long on hold with the DHS Families Assistance line and had a hard time contacting a SNAP caseworker, please share your story. Your story is important and could help improve the program. Click here to fill out the form!