Jeffco way behind in processing food stamp applications

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By AJ Vicens

Jeffco leads the state in failing to process applications for food stamps on time, and officials are blaming the situation on a soaring number of applicants and inadequate employee training.

Federal law mandates that counties are responsible for processing food assistance applications within 30 days, and states must achieve at least 90 percent compliance or face sanctions. Colorado currently processes just 74 percent of applications on time and could face more than $1 million in fines from the federal government.

Jeffco is by far the biggest offender among the state’s counties, with nearly 60 percent of applications not processed within 30 days. That figure is more than double Adams County’s, at 28 percent the second most delinquent.

If the state is fined, the “counties with the lowest performance will be expected to carry a substantial portion of the burden,” according to a memo from Lynn Johnson, director of the Jeffco Department of Human Services.

“We are addressing it,” Johnson said.

She told the county commissioners Feb. 24 that news coverage of the situation had her “a little panicked,” but that she’s assembled a team to deal with the issue. The department’s community assistance division handles food assistance applications. Lynnae Flora, the division’s acting director, is heading up the troubleshooting team.

“The numbers don’t look so hot,” Flora told the commissioners.

She said applications for food assistance doubled from the last quarter of 2007 to the last quarter of 2008. There were a total of 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.

“We’re putting together a team and will make some foundational changes,” Flora said. The team charged with fixing the problem in Jeffco will modify hiring practices, performance standards, training curriculum and discipline procedures for the community assistance division’s employees.

“Some people truly didn’t know what was expected of them,” Flora said, adding that hiring and training practices need to be improved.

“You’ve got to follow through and show there are consequences,” Flora said.

Johnson told the commissioners that the division has had three acting directors in the last year for “various reasons,” and that has contributed to its poor performance. But, she said, “this is not a one-year issue. This has been a problem-child area of this department.”

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