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Archive for Friday, July 15, 2005

SRS gets bonus for food program

July 15, 2005

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Two years ago, federal officials fined the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services nearly $1.5 million for messing up one of every 10 food stamp applications.

But on Thursday, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture announced SRS had earned an $861,132 bonus for cutting its error rate to 5.11 percent.

"We had the second highest level of error reduction in the nation," said Candace Shively, who oversees SRS' handling of food stamp applications.

Only Colorado saw a bigger improvement in its error rate. The national average was 5.9 percent.

Federal officials also waived the portion of the 2003 penalty - roughly $350,000 - scheduled to take effect this year. With the waiver, SRS netted $1.1 million.

The bonus, Shively said will be spent further refining food-stamp application processes. She attributed most of the improvements to working with a consultant to track down problem areas, changing the training regimen and simplifying the application process.

Shively said the improvements were especially significant because they coincided with record numbers of people being eligible for food stamps.

Today, about 78,000 Kansas households receive food stamps each month.

"That's a 5.6 percent increase over last year," Shively said.

She attributed most of the increase to the state's "economic turndown" and the success of ongoing efforts to encourage low-income workers to use food stamps to supplement their families' income.

Last year, SRS partnered with Dillons grocery stores in making food stamp information available.

Paul Johnson, director of the church-sponsored Public Assistance Coalition of Kansas, welcomed news of the improvement.

"I hope this a preview of coming attractions," said Johnson, who lives near Perry. "The numbers still show that under 60 percent of those eligible for food stamps are getting them."

According to SRS estimates, 52,000 families are eligible for food stamps but are not receiving them.

Food stamp benefits vary, depending on an applicant's income and number of dependents.

A family of four, for example, is eligible for food stamps if its annual household income is less than $24,516.

Last year, Kansans received $154 million in food stamp benefits.

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