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State: Slow reviews caused Clayton food stamp snafu

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Dozens of Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) clients found themselves temporarily without food stamps this week, after a case worker failed to review renewal applications in a timely manner, according to a state official.

The work week at the Clayton County DFCS office began Tuesday (Monday was a furlough day) with reports that benefits unexpectedly ended for many food stamp recipients in the county when their cases were incorrectly closed, said Georgia Department of Human Services Spokesperson Lisa Marie Shekell.

The Department of Human Services is the state agency that oversees county DFCS offices.

Initially, the DHS spokesperson said, the state was not sure why the benefits were not showing up on the food stamp cards for the affected clients.

"At first, we were not sure if it was technical error, or human error," Shekell said. "What we found out on Wednesday was that there were approximately 54 clients whose applications were not processed appropriately ... Their benefits were not being added to their cards as a result. It was human error."

Shekell said state and local officials immediately began working on addressing the problem, with Clayton County Department of Family Services case workers spending Wednesday contacting affected food stamp recipients and re-reviewing their applications. That review process, which the state spokesperson said can take 24 to 48 hours to complete, continued into Thursday. The benefits had been restored by Friday, she added.

All of the affected food stamp applications are believed to have been handled by the same case worker, Shekell said. She added that while applications were being reviewed, state and Clayton County officials worked to set up temporary food arrangements for affected Clayton County DFCS clients.

Every six months, food stamp recipients have to re-submit documentation to show they still need to be in the program, and the applications for renewal have to be reviewed before that time frame lapses, Shekell said.

"They [the affected Clayton County applications] were not reviewed within that time frame," she said.

Shekell said it was initially believed that 89 people had been affected by the mistake, but 35 recipients turned out to be people whose cases had been closed because they no longer qualified for food stamps. "Clayton County received approximately 5,000 food stamp applications last month, and only 54 of those applications ended up being affected by this," she said.

As a result of the Clayton County food stamp issue, Shekell said the Department of Human Services contacted each of its DFCS regional directors, and asked them to send out notices to each of their county-level offices.

She said the notices asked county-level officials to check and see if they had similar problems in their offices. She added that she has not yet seen a report on whether the issue occurred in other counties.

Shekell also did not specify if any disciplinary actions were being taken against the case worker responsible for the affected applications in Clayton County.

Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services Director Cathy Ratti said she was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.