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Audit Points to Food Stamp Application Woes

March 31, 2010

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The State Auditor's office reviewed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and concluded that the agency's reliance on paper records and inexperienced staff led to major delays for people applying for food stamps. It recommended HHS use more technology and better train staff. According to the report, less than 70 percent of applications were being processed within 30 days. Stephanie Goodman is an HHS spokesperson. She says the agency has hired hundreds of additional workers to get caught up.

Goodman: We started running into problems with that last year. The number's coming up now. We've made pretty good--in fact, it's up to 76 percent of cases were processed on time this month. That's obviously not where we want to be, but it's much better than back when we were at just over half of cases.

The report also noted a -quote-"significant increase" in the number of applicant inappropriately denied or given the wrong benefits. Celia Hagert is with the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She agrees that the audit is a good starting point for change.

Hagert: Even with all the good changes they're recommending in terms of our processes and our technology and how we hire workers and supervise them, without resources for more staff it's going to be really difficult to really get the system back on track.

The commission says it's hired 800 new staff to handle food stamps. But Hagert points out that more people are applying for food assistance - and even with the new hires - the agency has about a thousand fewer employees than it did in 2003, when it began privatizing the food stamp eligibility program. In Austin, I'm Ian Crawford.

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