Jeffco takes steps to speed processing of food-stamp applications

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By AJ Vicens

Jefferson County is taking steps to more quickly process food stamp applications, after the county was cited as leading the state in failing to process the applications within the federally required 30 days.

Lynnae Flora, acting director of Jeffco’s community assistance division, said more of the division’s employees are working overtime in an effort to more quickly process the applications. The division’s workers are also getting more training, she said.

Flora acknowledged that even one food-assistance application that languishes beyond the 30-day requirement might mean that a family isn’t getting enough to eat.

“It’s something that we need to continually remind ourselves,” Flora said.

Lynn Johnson, director of the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, told the county commissioners in a Feb. 24 memo that nearly 60 percent of food assistance applications were not being processed within 30 days.

Flore said the community assistance division is having more of its nearly 200 employees work overtime, and they’re starting to make a dent in the applications. However, Flora couldn’t provide the average number of days it takes for an application to be processed, saying the division doesn’t track that number.

“There are a certain number processed within 30 days, and a certain number processed past that,” Flora said.

Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said the real issue is the surge in demand.

“Where we’re failing is, the larger counties … have been absolutely slammed since the (economic) meltdown,” McDonough said.

She said that, in early February, firefighters were called to the El Paso County human services office because so many people were in the lobby.

“We’re talking about a situation that is simply uncharted,” McDonough said. “The numbers are difficult.”

Applications for food assistance in Jefferson County doubled from the last quarter of 2007 to the last quarter of 2008. There were 1,392 food assistance applications between Oct. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2007; that number jumped to 2,831 for the same period a year later.

Flora said that the division works weekly with state and federal staff to correct problems. McDonough confirmed that, saying that the state communicates weekly with the problem counties to offer assistance and help strategize.

McDonough said her state agency is not in danger of paying fines associated with the late processing of the applications. She said the federal government has told the state it will not be levying sanctions.

“Sanctions are not an issue at the moment,” McDonough said. “The federal office is very understanding of the explosion of case growth all states experienced in the last year, especially in the last few months.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.