12 OYS: DHS phone problems continue; customers losing benefits

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Dec. 18, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW) -- It is a last resort for Lisa Steuer. "I've been going to the food bank to feed my daughter and stuff that's the only option I can do," says Steuer.

Brittany Powell says she feels the same way after her food stamps were cutoff 3 months ago. "It's embarrassing having to come to the food bank pantry to get groceries," says Powell. But, "I've been having complications with the DHS center."

She spent the morning standing in line at the Columbia County Cares Food Pantry with her 2 year-old to get groceries.

Powell and dozens of others have called 12 On Your Side in recent weeks after saying they have experienced delays as long as 4 or 5 hours. Some say only to get disconnected while trying to reach a representative on Georgia's Department of Human Services customer service line.

"The few times I have got someone to pick up the phone they say hello and hang up the phone immediately," says Powell.

Greg Steuer says the problem is not just dialing in to DHS. He relies on several medications that have now run out. "You're supposed to get the interview on such and such a date. A phone interview but that didn't happen," says Steuer

We wanted to know exactly how many case managers are handling benefit calls throughout the state and from where. DHS says it currently has 350 agents who field customer calls.

News 12 has learned that most of these agents are virtual, meaning they work from home and not an actual call center.

"It's aggravating because the government is suppose to help when you need help," says Powell.

Meanwhile with no benefits Lisa Steuer and her husband Greg are facing an uncertain road ahead. "They're playing with people's health," says Lisa Steuer.

"This number is like calling nothing," says Greg Steuer.

Folks we spoke to outside the DHS office in Augusta say they have no choice but to rely on food banks until they can get their food stamps again.

Meanwhile in a statement, DHS says" The Department is working diligently with its internal and external partners to address complications with technology and resolve them as quickly as possible.
We believe once our system issues are resolved, customer wait times will be reduced and service improved for the entire state of Georgia."

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