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Problems Continue To Plague County Food Stamp System

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Jeff McDonald, U-T San Diego reporter

Bill Oswald, chair, Caring Council

Joni Halpern, director, Supportive Parents Information Network


Five out of six calls to a county hotline designed to help residents access food stamps and other benefits are dropped, according to an inTelegy report first publicized in U-T San Diego.

The report, commissioned by the county, also found that those callers who do make it through wait an average of 30 minutes before speaking to someone and that 350,000 calls a month are not answered by Health and Human Services employees.

Bill Oswald, chair of Caring Council, and Joni Halpern, director of Supportive Parents Information Network, spoke to KPBS. They said the report has confirmed what they have long been saying: the county's food stamp program needs a lot of improvement.

"I was pleased to see (the report) actually identified some of the problems we've been talking about for the past five years," Oswald said.

Halpern said the report addresses two parts of the county's process that are problematic: the task-based group system that means no individual case workers are assigned to cases and the long waits at access centers where people sign up for benefits in person.

"It sometimes takes an hour and a half to get into the building, just to get in to the building," she said.

While the number of people in the county's food stamp program has grown from 83,000 in 2006 to 236,000 last year, the participation rate has not changed. That means the county is keeping up with demand, but is not increasing participation, Oswald said.

On Monday, Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Roberts told KPBS Television's "Evening Edition" that the county's methods for increasing enrollment has changed dramatically.

"We're seeing the results," he said.

In response, Halpern said the county has good intentions, but will need to spend more money on the program to increase enrollment. She added she is unsure the Board of Supervisors will be willing to do that.

"The Board of Supervisors has been clear they have no interest in serving this interest," Oswald added. He referenced a report that found food stamps and other benefits are a low priority for the supervisors. In interviews for an Envision San Diego documentary, the supervisors also expressed those sentiments.

Nick Macchione, director of the county's Health and Human Services Agency, will be on "Evening Edition" tomorrow to continue the discussion on food stamps.

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