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County Official Says Food Stamp Hotline Problems Started One Year Ago

Evening Edition

Above: Nick Macchione, director of the county's Health and Human Services Agency, and Sandra McBrayer, head of The Children's Initiative, speak to KPBS Television's "Evening Edition" about issues in the county's food stamp program.

The county first realized it was having problems with a hotline designed to help residents access food stamps and other benefits about a year ago, according to Nick Macchione, the director of the county's Health and Human Services Agency.

Macchione spoke with KPBS Television’s "Evening Edition” about a report commissioned by the county, which found that five out of six calls to the hotline were dropped and that those callers who do make it through wait an average of 30 minutes before speaking to someone. It also found 350,000 calls a month are not answered by HHSA employees.

Work on the access center that handles the calls started two years ago and the call center opened one year ago, Macchione said.

“When we started the call center and people started calling in, we realized that we’re going to need assistance and experts, again we’re not experts in call centers,” he said.

After this realization, the county hired inTelegy, which conducted the report.

In response to recommendations in the report, the county will be hiring an additional 100 people to help with the call center, Macchione said.

The county’s food stamp participation rate of 40 percent is the lowest in the country for metropolitan areas of its size, according to a federal report released last year.

But Sandra McBrayer, head of The Children's Initiative, told “Evening Edition” those numbers do not tell the whole story.

“For a lot of adults, they’re not applying for food stamps,” she said. “I talked to adults thoughout the county who are saying, ‘I’m trying on my own.’”

“As you dig deeper, there are some people who are choosing not to,” she added.

But host Joanne Faryon said the difficulties in accessing food stamps, like those detailed in the recent report, might also be the reason for low participation.

“It is a difficult process and the county has taken incredible steps,” McBrayer said.

As KPBS previously reported, the county has cut its spending on health and human services while increasing funds for public safety. But Macchione said blame for budget cuts rests with the state, not the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Although the county is responsible for 15 percent of the administration costs for the food stamp program—with the rest provided by the state—California has also not increased its funding for administration costs over the past 12 years, he said.

“The state of California does not give adequate resources for administration,” he said. “Not only are we adding funds for the positions with the resources we have, but we spent $4 million to build the access center.”

Comments

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 10, 2012 at 5:02 p.m. ― 2 years, 7 months ago

Blah, blah, blah.

The reality is those who control county politics need to be changed in order for anything to improve.

And it needs to start at the top.

Every single on of the 5 county board of supervisors has gone on record saying they consider social services to be of the lowest priority.

Yet, they are involving themselves in the chargers stadium shenanigans, so we can clearly see where their misplaced priorities are.

This is not a new story, and County officials will simply put a bandwidth on it until it floats off the media spotlight and revert right back to their complete disregard for social services.

We need to vote these hacks out of office, it's the only way real change can occur.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 10, 2012 at 5:05 p.m. ― 2 years, 7 months ago

Band-aid not bandwidth!!, aaaaagh!! The auto spell on this iPad is frustrating.

But not as frustrating as our County Board of Supervisors, these 5 are just foul. Vote them out!!!!!!!!

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 11, 2012 at 1:05 a.m. ― 2 years, 7 months ago

Joanne, you are a better person than I.

I don't know how you prevented yourself from reaching out and smacking those two.

You did a great job in the interview, I have never seen a couple of county bureaucrats squirm, lie, and evade like those two did.

I hope KPBS's cleaning staff checked the upholstery on the chair Mr. Macchione was sitting on because he looked as nervous as a virgin at a prison rodeo during the interview and it wouldn't surprise me if he "lost it" a little.

In all seriousness, great work and please keep up with the issue. It's become blatantly obvious these people don't care.

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Avatar for user 'ew7sg'

ew7sg | February 11, 2012 at 7:11 a.m. ― 2 years, 7 months ago

Wow I have never seen or heard such blatant avoidance to direct questions. Vote out these folks? They should be immediately removed with full investigation of lying to the public. Joanne great interview. There has to be an attorney out there that would take on civil suite against these people on behalf of all those that have given up accessing benefits. This is not a subject I have ever followed but wow what a total disregard for the poor of our county.

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Avatar for user 'Frankie'

Frankie | February 11, 2012 at 3:01 p.m. ― 2 years, 7 months ago

The best part of this interview is when KPBS' Joanne Faryon calls Sandra McBreyer "Brenda." Faryon should have zeroed in on the fact that 17 additional County staff have been hired to hang up on people and demanded to know the timetable for additional hiring.What a disgrace.

Needless to point out, HSS head Macchione isn't going to criticize the Supes who sign his paycheck -- which, by the way is how much $ -- and Sandra McBreyer, who is paid to run "The Children's Initiative," shockingly had nothing intelligible to add to this conversation. No wonder she got called the wrong name.

Editor Andrew Donohue at the voiceofsandiego, gives Macchione "credit" for going on TV after this scathing report by U-T investigative reporter Jeff McDonald. Donohue must not have looked at this program. But kudos to Jeff McDonald for following this scandal and keeping on keeping on.

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