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Officials meet today to reduce delays in approving food stamp benefits

Officials will meet again today to work on reducing the delays in approving food stamp benefits in Wisconsin.

The state says almost two-thirds of the 45,000 low-income people applying for Food-Share cards from mid-June through mid-October had to wait longer than the 30-day limit for their requests to be processed.

And in Milwaukee County alone, 1,400 people have had to wait more than three months.

The problem was first made public two weeks ago.

Now, Milwaukee's Hunger Task Force says almost $12 million in FoodShare benefits were left undelivered from May through October.

And it's forced many people to get food at pantries instead of through benefit cards at the grocery stores.

State Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake blamed the delays on a crush of applications for the state's new BadgerCare health benefits for childless adults.

Seventy-percent of them also applied for food stamps, hundreds per day, and Timberlake said her agency was inundated with far more requests than it expected.

Spokesman Seth Boffeli said the agency has started to reduce the backlog by increasing its processing staff in Madison, and reducing the telephone hours for the required interviews with FoodShare applicants.

But that has caused problems, too, as applicants have waited more than an hour on the phone.

The USDA says Wisconsin's delays are among the worst in the nation. The state could face federal sanctions.

But the USDA's Alan Shannon says his agency is more concerned about getting people fed than about punishing bureaucrats.