The Alaska Legal Service Corporation (ALSC) office in Nome, which offers free legal advice, is prioritizing certain cases and emergencies until February (Feb. 1) due to a surge of SNAP cases.
ALSC Deputy Director, Maggie Humm, said it’s not unusual for their offices to prioritize certain types of cases. Right now, they’re prioritizing ones involving public benefits.
“Right now we’re being inundated with a particular type of case, we’re trying to help new people, we may not be able to get to everybody.”
Public benefit cases include things like Medicare, heating assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is better known as SNAP benefits or food stamps. More than twelve thousand Alaskans had backlogged SNAP applications at the beginning of this month (Dec. 6), with some cases dating as far back as July.
Humm said offices around the state are inundated with SNAP cases. The nonprofit serves an average seven thousand low-income residents each year.
“This huge crisis that we’re having across the state with folks unable to get their food benefits, which has certainly become an emergency.”
Humm said they have a “flexible definition of an emergency,” and the Nome office is trying to set up a system to better prioritize urgency.
“It could mean somebody’s getting evicted. It could mean somebody needs help or protection from domestic violence. Those sorts of things.”
While the Nome office is prioritizing public benefit cases, Humm said they’re still accepting other cases as well, just that it may take more time to get to. She said that their Nome attorney, Nicole Frank, will assess which cases she can manage and which ones she can’t on a case by case basis.
Humm said Frank is the only employee in the Nome office at this time. The office typically has up to three people, but two of them are off for the holiday season.
“Our offices want to continue to deliver the highest possible quality legal services that we can while helping as many people as we can. And that may, from time to time result in having to, you know, limit the types of cases that we can take on, especially in an office of one person.”
Humm said the office will reassess where they are with public benefit cases on February first. The ASLC accepts applications for legal help on their website.
Photo at top: The local Safeway grocery store, known by most as Hanson’s Trading Co. in Nome. Over 55 thousand Alaskans were registered for SNAP benefits in September 2023. Photo from Davis Hovey, KNOM (2020).