The Department of Health and Human Services is making some staffing changes to address long call wait times for recipients of MaineCare and SNAP, commonly known as food stamps.

Spokesperson Lindsay Hammes said call volumes began rising in March when extra benefits for the supplemental nutrition program ended. More people have also been calling as the end of the public health emergency approaches on May 11. That has big implications for people with Medicaid insurance, who will have to start renewing their eligibility every year.

The department said it is approving overtime and reassigning staff to help field the calls.

The federal government gave states who kept people on Medicaid rolls an extra match in funding. That, along with the expansion of MaineCare in 2019, has helped increase Maine’s Medicaid enrollees. More than 400,000 people had Medicaid insurance as of January, according to department data.

The issue was brought before the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee Friday by Sen. Mike Tipping. He said he has heard of some people waiting up to four hours to get through. One constituent told him she had a “life hack” — call in at 7 a.m. and you might get heard within two hours.

“And I think just that is absolutely unacceptable for people that are dealing with some really tough issues and try to get the help they need,” he said.

The committee voted to send the department a letter asking why some Mainers can’t get through.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.