Saturday, April 23, 2011

Solano grand jury airs food stamp concerns

Report details potential problems
By Richard Bammer / The Reporter
Posted: 04/23/2011 01:09:54 AM PDT
Updated: 04/23/2011 07:10:07 AM PDT

For the Solano County grand jury, it is something like a small perfect storm at the county Department of Health and Social Services, where, among other benefits, food stamp are doled out.

In a report released Friday, grand jury members noted that a 33 percent increase in the number of people getting food stamps between 2008 and 2010 comes at a time when HSS staffing and management levels have been reduced due to budget cutbacks.

Thus, the increase and "severe" budget cuts, the report noted, "translates into reduced personnel with heavier workloads and less time available" to make sure those applying for the benefits are actually eligible.

While application and verification rules have remained the same over the years, there appears "to be a greater opportunity for a noneligible person to receive ongoing benefits," the report's authors wrote in their summary.

In a second finding, grand jury members noted that income re-verification is done every three months, but state officials are considering a twice-yearly re-verification instead.

The grand jury urged county leaders to tell state officials about "the potential financial risk involved, whether intentional or unintentional, with changing the income re-verification process to six months."

Two attachments to the report indicate sharp rises in the number of county residents seeking food stamp benefits, a sort of commentary on the legacy of the Great Recession.

In the first, county HSS noted 26,275 people in its food stamps data base in 2008. By 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the number had risen to 34,869, a 33 percent increase, and rise from 6 percent to 8 percent, respectively, of the total number of county residents who receive the benefit.

The second attachment indicated that 12,000 people received food stamps in 2003, compared to nearly 35,000 last year, "a three-fold increase" in recipients, the report's authors pointed out.

Those numbers, accompanied by budget cuts, mean heavier workloads for food stamp processors and less time available for each interview, they said.

"These limitations increase the risk of incorrect issuances of the food stamp program," the report's authors wrote.

County HSS offers a wide variety of temporary services to the needy. They include, besides food stamps, Medi-Cal, general assistance, CalWORKS and welfare-to-work.

The full report is available online at

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