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Colorado reduces backlog in processing food assistance benefits

Many still waiting for SNAP benefits
Food Stamps
Posted at 1:03 PM, Jun 05, 2024

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Colorado has shown improvement in reducing its backlog in processing food assistance benefits, according to records obtained by Denver7 Investigates.

However, more work is still needed as many still struggle to get help in a timely manner. The problem was so severe last year that the federal government stepped in with a corrective action plan.

"I'm not eating as much as I used to anymore," said David Russell, a Lakewood resident who relies on SNAP food assistance benefits because of his disabilities. "I had to cut down and reorganize my diet because I don't have as much food anymore."

His food assistance money never came in March and April, according to his mother, Mary Russell, who handles his care and finances.

"I couldn't get a response from Jefferson County, so I reached out to Denver7 Investigates," Mary said. "We received almost an immediate response, and his benefits appeared in his account."

Still, Colorado has a significant backlog in processing SNAP benefits across the state, which means people can't buy food while they wait for their applications and renewals to be approved.

Denver7 Investigates has been reporting on the delays for more than a year.

Records obtained by Denver7 show that when federal managers of the SNAP program intervened in October 2023, they stated "Colorado is severely out of compliance with federal requirements related to SNAP APT (application processing timeliness)."

Jefferson County Human Services, which handled David Russell's benefits, blamed a combination of a dramatic increase in SNAP applications, staffing challenges, and technology issues at the state level.

Colorado reduces backlog in processing food assistance benefits

"We've been challenged by turnover at various levels within the organization," said Lynnae Flora, deputy director of Jefferson County Human Services. "We also have a computer system that is a statewide computer system. ... And when that goes down, we go down."

After the federal government put Colorado under a corrective action plan, the latest reports show the state has seen significant improvements.

Since January, Jefferson County went from 74% on-time SNAP application processing to 78%. Statewide, Colorado went from 71% to 88%.

The state hopes to eventually reach 95%.

"We are incredibly, incredibly proud of the work that our county staff has done to be able to work towards those targeted goals that they've established for their counties to meet the needs of the people in their communities," said Minna Castillo, the deputy executive director of community partnerships with the Colorado Department of Human Services. "And in the meantime, we're also doing a secondary effort to ensure that people have access to food and nutrition that could be offered through food banks. We also provide emergency assistance through the counties for those people who are facing that immediate food insecurity."

To continue to improve, many counties are using a pilot program to automate data entry and requiring mandatory overtime for staff.

Records show the federal government recognized Colorado's improvements in recent months and commended the state for prioritizing SNAP benefits. Colorado will continue to give updates until reaching the goal of 95% on-time application processing for six consecutive months.

"I can just tell you that this is what keeps me up at night," said Flora, who added they hope to eliminate the backlog by the end of the summer or earlier. "We are doing everything we can."