Feds Fine Texas Over Food Stamps; Legal Aid Groups Say "We Told You So"

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The federal government has levied a fine of almost $4 million against Texas for mishandling its food stamp program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the state made too many errors over the past two fiscal years.

Those mistakes include both underpaying and overpaying recipients, so it all works out, right? Texas says it will appeal the ruling, and says many of the mistakes were caused by disruptions from Hurricane Ike.

But to some legal-aid groups in the state, the mishandling of the program sounds like SOP.

"The federal government, in assessing it's almost $4 million fine, has acknowledged what our clients have experienced for years," said Martha Orozco, an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid of Houston.

She said the state's Health and Human Services Commission's "bureaucracy is a nightmarish maze with obstacles at every turn that do nothing but frustrate the food stamp program's mission of serving as a safety net for poor people and providing food on the tables of
hungry Texans."

Her group, along with two others, is in federal court fighting HHSC on food-stamp issues. They describe it this way:

Originally the case focused on the excessive wait times for families applying for food stamps. Federal and state laws dictate that families should receive decisions on their food stamp applications within thirty days.

In January, nearly forty percent of food stamp applications were not processed within that timeframe (many were waiting months). After five years, the agency it appears has finally begun to address this issue, but the problems with the administration of the food stamp program that remain are vast.

The litigation, they hope, will now focus on the larger problem of getting food stamps to all those in need. "Texas only delivers food stamps to 50 percent of those eligible for them, costing the Texas economy millions of dollars while millions of deserving families with children in need go hungry as a result," the agencies say.

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