Paperwork delays Colorado food stamps

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: One in eight people in America now use food stamps -- more than ever before. Yet if you live in Colorado, there's a good chance your paperwork's not getting processed in 30 days. That delay violates federal law. From Denver, Colorado Public Radio's Zachary Barr has more.


Zachary Barr: Robert Rothfuss is disabled, and he's been on government food stamps for 30 years:

Robert Rothfuss: They've always been, you know, real punctual, and they've been real good, you know, to be with.

Until the past few years. You see, if you receive food stamps, you have to re-apply periodically to prove you're still eligible. And a couple of times recently, Robert's been incorrectly cut-off. Last month he went to his local 7-11, grabbed a bag of chips, and swiped his card.

Rothfuss: I thought, you know, I'd buy a small amount and see if my stamps had shown up. And they didn't.

Rothfuss had done everything right, says Dorothy Hurvey at Colorado Legal Services.

Dorothy Hurvey: In Robert's case, it appears that the information was never put into the computer system.

Rothfuss had even gone so far as to hand deliver his paperwork three weeks early.

Hurvey:Clients are returning those documents timely and they're falling into a black hole, and they disappear and they county departments are saying, "We've never gotten them."

Whether the counties aren't getting the applications or whether they're sitting in a pile somewhere, the outcome's the same: you lose your benefits. To get them back, you have to appeal. And around 15,000 people go through this every month in Colorado.

William Browning: It's about how do we get these applications processed more effectively.

William Browning's in charge of the state computer system that determines eligibility for benefits, and many blame that computer system for these delays. And Browning admits that used to be true, but no longer. He says personnel's now the issue. He says there aren't enough caseworkers, and the ones who are working need to do so more efficiently. And he says the state is overwhelmed:

Browning: We're processing 34 percent more caseload than we were a year ago at this time, and yet we're performing 10 percent better than we were a year ago.

But the state agreed to process every application on time after settling a lawsuit three years ago. Its failure to comply means it could wind up back in court as early as next month.

As for Robert Rothfuss, he's now back on food stamps after going 25 days without them.

In Denver, I'm Zachary Barr for Marketplace.

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