CA - Food-Stamp Computer Out to Lunch...Glitch Holds Up Vouchers : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Title: Food-Stamp Computer Out to Lunch

About 1,000 recipients couldn't get vouchers Monday when a new, high-tech system malfunctioned. Service was restored by 6 p.m.

By ANN L. KIM, Times Staff Writer - LA TIMES

About 1,000 food-stamp recipients were turned away from stamp distribution centers Monday when a computer glitch shut down operations for more than six hours.

Although the centers opened in the evening, the glitch caused long lines and waits, and forced people on severely limited budgets to take additional bus rides for the stamps.

"There's a lot of people who probably had to pay double to take the bus or drive back here," said Linda Leibensperger, 46, of Fountain Valley as she stood in a Santa Ana food-stamp line after the computers were operating again. "It'd be especially inconvenient for mothers with small kids if they have to pay double for transportation costs."

Intended to make it cheaper for the county and quicker and more convenient for food-stamp recipients, the computer system sends names and voucher amounts to the six distribution sites around the county, where people can go to collect their stamps.

The computers and the food-stamp distribution sites are operated by Continental Currency Services Inc., a private company the county has contracted with since April 1. By 6 p.m., the county had managed to restore service to all six centers, which stayed open into the evening in an effort to get people their stamps.

"Because it's a new system, our hope is that this is a one-time issue," said Shaun Skelly, a county accounting manager. "We will be following up on this to make sure that the automated backup system is assessed, and we're working on a secondary backup system for any future occurrences."

Skelly estimated about 1,000 recipients were turned away Monday because of the computer's malfunction and about 2,500 people, in all, were affected. The estimate is based on the number of food-stamp recipients who usually claim their stamps on a given day.

Continental Currency officials could not be reached Monday evening for comment on the cause of the computer problem.

Alisa Villegas of Costa Mesa waited at the food-stamp distribution site on Bristol Street in Santa Ana for two hours Monday morning, thinking the computers might get fixed quickly. But she left, frustrated, and came back around 5 p.m.

"Right now, I really count on the stamps," Villegas said. "Luckily, my kids go to school around here so I could come here on my way." In addition to the later hours Monday, the distribution sites will open at 7 a.m. today, two hours earlier than usual.

About 28,000 Orange County families are eligible for food stamps, said assistant program manager Sandy Bloore, and the amount each family receives varies, depending on the size of the household and the annual income.

The state average is $70 per person each month, Bloore said. Families that earn up to 130% of the federal poverty level--or a gross monthly income of $1,810 for a family of four--are eligible for the assistance.

The county switched to the automated food-stamp system last month in an effort to save money on postage and prevent letters from getting lost in the mail.

Under the previous system, food-stamp recipients got notices in the mail, which they traded for vouchers at the distribution sites. "Now, the client doesn't have to wait to get the paper in the mail, which could be delayed or lost," Bloore said.

But many had to wait Monday, when evening lines were made longer by people who usually pick up their stamps in the morning.

Search the archives of the Los Angeles Times for similar stories about: Food Stamps, Computers, Continental Currency Services, Mistakes, Orange County - Government.


-- (, May 09, 2000

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