THOUSANDS of struggling families are still waiting for back-to-school payments two weeks after their children returned to the classroom.
Some 13,377 applications lie unopened in HSE offices around the country.
The HSE has given out €62m in back-to-school payments this year, but applications are continuing to flood in as families can apply until September 30.
People living in the west are worst affected and 3,000 families in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon have yet to receive money to cover book bills and the cost of school uniforms.
Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal are the only counties that are on top of the situation. There is no waiting list there.
The Mid-West area of Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary is lagging behind -- with 2,939 forms unopened.
Each application is taking ten days to process there.
Cork and Kerry are also affected -- with 2,600 families waiting for the payment and the south-east is even worse at 2,688. The rate of the allowance paid for each eligible child is €200 for two- to 11-year-olds, €305 for 12 to 17-year-olds and up to €520 for 18-year-olds.
Limerick TD Dan Neville said it was "inevitable" that people were turning to moneylenders to cover back-to-school costs.
He said: "In a crisis they'll look to people like that. Parents will go without food if they think it will allow their children to go to school."
Mr Neville said the level of applications was "never as high" in Limerick.
"It is unacceptable that people are in limbo. Some of the people applying for it are under stress and pressure because of recent unemployment and God knows they don't need the pressure of wondering if they'll get the allowance," he said.
The Limerick TD also said that "good management" would be able to predict the level of applications in advance and "move resources" to respond. "This happens every year."
The form is available from www.hse.ie.