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New Applicants Tie Up Food Stamp Benefits

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Food stamps (credit: CBS)

Food stamps (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4)- Thousands of Coloradans who need help aren’t getting it because of a massive backlog. They’re being forced to go without benefits like food stamps, Medicaid and other state assistance.

Last week the backlog included 5,000 families. This week that number is down to 3,700. Denver Human Services said a flood of new applicants applying for benefits triggered the problem. Now it’s affecting people already in the system trying to re-qualify and continue their assistance.

“I’m having to come to donate plasma in order to get money to buy food while they’re determining whether I qualify for food stamps,” said Heather Trujillo. “I have no control over it, it’s just frustrating.”

Trujillo is a mother of four. She has been receiving food stamps for about a year. Every six months she and thousands of other recipients have to re-qualify.

“There’s up to a month lag in the times they’re seeing their benefits. We know it’s a real struggle for families,” said Denver Human Services spokeswoman Revekka Balancier.

The lag is specifically affecting people needing to re-qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and cash assistance programs. DHS said a perfect storm hit their departments when the recession began.

“Between 2008 and 2011 we saw an overall increase in caseloads from about 120,000 people we were servicing to 175,000 people we were servicing. A lot of those were first time applicants,” said Balancier.

In January, the department instituted a recovery effort which included technological upgrades, overhauls to how they process cases and a new computer system. Backlogs have improved dramatically, but not for everyone.

DHS hopes to be completely caught up with the backlogs by mid-October. Families falling into the critical risk category will be prioritized.

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