December 2, 2004 in Nation/World

Computer system leaves poor without food stamps, benefits

Associated Press

DENVER – Thousands of low-income Coloradans are waiting for food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits as officials fall behind in processing claims with the state’s new $200 million welfare computer system.

Gov. Bill Owens ordered the system operational Sept. 1 despite pleas from county officials and an independent consultant who insisted it was not ready.

The computer system has since been blamed for leaving thousands without food stamps, pension payments, Medicaid and other assistance and for creating backlogs of thousands of applicants.

Edwin Kahn, an attorney for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, has sued the state. In late September, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying at the time that people had received benefits. Kahn has since refiled.

“There are over 20,000 cases already where federal law has been broken – people are not receiving benefits who should be,” he said.

State officials disputed some of the USDA’s findings and planned to meet with federal officials today.

Human Services Department spokeswoman Liz McDonough said some counties did not provide information to the state needed to process claims. She declined to comment further because of the lawsuit.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp program concluded it will take officials two months or more to eliminate the backlog of food stamps in various counties.

The computer system’s servers have suffered glitches and thousands of records did not transfer properly from the old computer system, requiring workers to sometimes spend hours entering information for a new case.

Kahn said 20,000 Coloradans who applied for food stamps, Medicaid or a work program did not get their applications processed before government deadlines because of the slow system.

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