The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Alan Ezra United States District Judge
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
On November 16, 2011, the Court heard Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Appearing on behalf of Plaintiffs were J. Blaine Rogers, Esq., Victor Geminiani, Esq., Deja Ostrowski, Esq., and, by telephone, Mary R. Mannix, Esq. Appearing on behalf of Defendant was Deputy Attorney General Rebecca E. Quinn. After reviewing the motion and the supporting and opposing memoranda, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. # 30.)
I. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program The federal Food Stamp Program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP"), was initiated in 1964 pursuant to the Food Stamp Act ("the Act").*fn1 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq. The express purpose of SNAP is to "safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households." Id. § 2011. SNAP provides federally-funded benefits to eligible low-income households to help them purchase food. Id. § 2011 et seq. The program is administered nationally by the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"), which is responsible for issuing regulations consistent with the Act. Id. § 2013(a), (c). States that participate in the program designate a state agency to administer the program at the state level. Id. § 2012(t). State agencies must administer the program in compliance with the Act and its implementing regulations. Id. § 2020(e).
Hawaii, of course, has chosen to participate in the program. The Department of Human Services ("DHS") is the designated state agency responsible for administering the program. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 346-51. Pursuant to federal law, DHS is required to process food stamp applications within thirty days after application and provide ongoing SNAP benefits to eligible applicants no later than thirty days after application. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(3); 7 C.F.R. 273.2(a), (g)(1), (3). Additionally, expedited SNAP benefits must be provided to eligible households no later than seven days following the date of application. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(9); 7 C.F.R. 273.2(i)(3)(i).
On November 10, 2010, USDA sent DHS a letter indicating that individual states are required to have a 90 to 95 percent application timeliness rate and that data showed that DHS had an "application timeliness rate of 78.7 percent with the upper bound of the 95 percent confidence interval at 84.87 percent." (Doc. # 38-2.) The letter directed DHS to submit a written Timeliness Corrective Action Plan outlining the steps that DHS would take to improve overall timeliness. (Id.)
On March 7, 2011, DHS submitted its Timeliness Corrective Action Plan and detailed DHS' efforts to implement a new system of processing cases called the Business Process Re-Engineering ("BPR") model. (Doc. # 38-3.) Statistics indicate that States that have implemented the BPR method have reported improved timeliness rates. (Doc. # 38-1 ¶ 12; Doc. # 38-5.) In March 2011, DHS obtained federal funds to hire a consultant to help DHS establish BPR. (Doc. # 38-1 ¶ 18.) DHS is currently still in the process of implementing BPR in its SNAP offices. (Id. ¶¶ 18--27.) DHS hopes to have the BPR system in place in all its offices by October 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 24.) There will be an adjustment period associated with BPR but DHS expects to see noticeable changes in the State wide timeliness rate by April 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 28.)
On November 17, 2010, this action was initiated on behalf of a purported class of Hawaiian residents who (1) applied for SNAP benefits in Hawaii after November 2008 and did not receive benefits in a timely manner, or (2) are seeking, or will in the future seek, SNAP benefits in Hawaii. (Doc. # 1.) The gravamen of Plaintiffs' complaint is that DHS is not determining food stamp eligibility and issuing food stamps within the time limits set forth under federal law. (Id.)
Named Plaintiff Lehua Booth is 53 years old and lives in Kihei, Maui with her husband. (Doc. # 30-2 ¶ 2.) She is disabled and her husband is unemployed. (Id. ¶ 3.) Their only income is the $677 she receives monthly for her Social Security Income. (Id. ¶ 3.) Booth and her husband previously qualified for SNAP benefits and used those benefits to buy food. (Id. ¶ 5.) On August 4, 2011, Booth discovered that her SNAP benefits had been cut. (Id. ¶ 6.) The next day she went to the Maui DHS office and filled out a SNAP application. (Id. ¶ 6-8.) After almost one month had passed without any response regarding her application, Booth went to the Maui DHS office and was informed that her file was among the backlogged files from the Maui office that had been transferred to the Oahu office. (Id. ¶ 10.) Booth has tried to contact DHS multiple times to inquire as to the status of her application to no avail. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 11, 12, 15.) As of the time of filing the instant Motion, Booth had not yet been informed about whether she qualifies for SNAP benefits.*fn2 (Doc. # 30 at 3.)
Booth, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, brings this action to enjoin Defendant from failing to process applications for SNAP benefits and provide benefits to eligible households within the time frame mandated by federal law. (Doc. # 36 ¶ 3.)
On February 7, 2011, the Court issued a Stipulated Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification ("Stipulated Order"). (Doc. # 14.) In the Stipulated Order, the Court ordered: (1) certification of the requested class; (2) appointment of former Named Plaintiff David Bohn as class representative; and (3) appointment of Lawyers for Equal Justice, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing as class counsel. (Id. at 3--4.)
After the Court issued the Stipulated Order, David Bohn's SNAP application was finally processed. Plaintiff Lehua Booth subsequently filed a Motion (1) to Intervene; (2) for Appointment as Class Representative; and for Leave to file an Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 29.) On October 28, 2011, this Court issued an Order Adopting ...