Colorado flunks in food stamp ac­cess, re­port says

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jen­nifer Brown Jen­nifer Brown: 303- 954- 1593, jen­brown@ den­ver­post. com or @ jbrownd­post

Just more than half of Coloradans el­i­gi­ble for food stamps are re­ceiv­ing the as­sis­tance, plac­ing Colorado near the bot­tom of states in the abil­ity to get food to the needy.

Colorado ranks 46th in the na­tion in the lat­est food stamp re­port from Hunger Free Colorado, re­leased Thurs­day. The na­tional av­er­age is 75 per­cent of el­i­gi­ble peo­ple re­ceiv­ing food stamps, com­pared with Colorado’s 57 per­cent.

“It needs to be­come more of a pri­or­ity in Colorado,” said Michelle Ray, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Hunger Free Colorado. “There are long- stand­ing is­sues with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of food stamps in our state and ac­cess for those­who are el­i­gi­ble.

“At min­i­mum, we should be av­er­age.”

Colorado has im­proved since 1994, when just 36 per­cent of peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for food stamps were re­ceiv­ing them. Still, Colorado’s state- su­per­vised, coun­ty­based sys­tem for en­rolling peo­ple in the food as­sis­tance pro­gram un­der­per­forms com­pared with the rest of the coun­try.

Colorado’s food stamp pro­gram has long faced crit­i­cism over de­lays in pro­cess­ing ap­pli­ca­tions and spend­ing prac­tices. The state strug­gled for years to com­ply with fed­eral stan­dards for pro­cess­ing food­stamp ap­pli­ca­tions. Last year, Colorado agreed to pay the fed­eral govern­ment $ 1 mil­lion and make changes to its ben­e­fits man­age­ment sys­tem to set­tle a com­plaint that the state mis­used money in the pro­gram.

For the first time, Hunger Free Colorado re­leased county- spe­cific data, re­veal­ing a vast range in coun­ties’ abil­i­ties to get food stamps to peo­ple who need them.

Pitkin County had the low­est en­roll­ment in the state at 10 per­cent. El Paso County, mean­while, was among the high­est- per­form­ing, en­rolling 71 per­cent of el­i­gi­ble peo­ple. Den­ver County was at 59 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the anal­y­sis based on 2013 data.

The re­port also found ma­jor dif­fer­ences across coun­ties in the costs re­ported for en­roll­ment in food as­sis­tance. In Boul­der County, it costs the county $ 286 per en­rollee, while in Pue­blo County, the per- per­son cost is $ 80, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Na­tion­ally, 12 other states be­sides Colorado have county- run sys­tems, and none ranked in the top 25 per­cent in the re­port. That raises ques­tions about states’ abil­ity to pro­vide proper over­sight, Ray said.

“This data can be a great con­ver­sa­tion starter with coun­ties and com­mu­ni­ties so we can fig­ure out what are the bar­ri­ers a county is fac­ing,” she said.

Of­fi­cials at the Colorado Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices, which ad­min­is­ters the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram or SNAP, said they had not yet thor­oughly re­viewed the re­port but em­pha­sized “the im­por­tance of en­sur­ing the eco­nomic well- be­ing” of needy fam­i­lies.

“We work closely with coun­ties to en­sure Coloradans in need are re­ceiv­ing the right amount of ben­e­fits in a timely fash­ion and are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment on food as­sis­tance mea­sures,” said Robert Thomp­son, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

Hunger Free Colorado es­ti­mated Colorado loses more than $ 686 mil­lion in an­nual gro­cery sales by not serv­ing all of those el­i­gi­ble for food stamps.

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