Indiana tight-lipped about food stamp screw-ups 

I'm not the first blogger to get to this today (see here for another take), and I probably won't be the last. But given the focus of much of my work for NUVO over the last several months, this struck me as too good to pass up.

According to a new report by the Associated Press, it seems that millions of needy people nationwide have had to wait for their food stamp benefits, just like they did in Indiana when Governor Daniels tried to privatize the state's Family and Social Services Administration — part of a 10-year, $1.16 billion deal with IBM that failed pretty miserably.

In its investigation, Indiana's track record wasn't the worst they found: that dubious distinction belongs to Texas, a beleaguered, inefficiency-plagued model of welfare privatization that Daniels' opponents warned about during his inexorable march toward the sweetheart IBM deal (which, as we've noted previously, IBM is still trying to gouge us for).

But how does Indiana rank compared to Texas? No telling so far. That's because Indiana was the only state not to answer information requests by AP investigators.

Read on:

The recession has landed millions of hungry families in similar straits, forcing them to endure long waits for help buying basic groceries. A review by The Associated Press found that dozens of food-stamp programs in 39 states left at least a quarter of applicants waiting weeks or months for food aid, some in areas that were not particularly hard hit by the economic downturn.

Federal law requires applications for food stamps to be reviewed within 30 days of being filed, and even faster for the poorest families. Failure to do so can subject agencies to federal sanctions and lawsuits, but individual families are largely at the mercy of their local administrators.

Among the excuses for the delays were overburdened bureaucracies, staff shortages or program rules. But that makes little difference to parents with hungry children. [...]

To look at the effect of the recession on the program, the AP gathered monthly numbers of new applications processed and those that took longer than 30 days from every county or region within each state for fiscal year 2009, the first full fiscal year of the recession.

Not every state could provide the data requested by the AP, either because of outdated computer systems or because they do not track the number of applications processed. But 39 states and Washington, D.C., provided overall counts, and 36 states had county or regional data.

Only one state, Indiana, refused to provide any answers on timeliness despite repeated phone and public records requests.

[Kevin Cancannon, undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, which oversees food stamps], said in an interview with the AP that Indiana is "grossly behind" in processing food stamps after a botched effort to turn the program over to IBM Corp.

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