HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania, already criticized for lagging in processing unemployment checks and home energy assistance claims, has been ordered by the federal government to speed up processing of food stamp applications, a newspaper reported.
The Philadelphia Inquirer says its examination of U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicates that the commonwealth ranks among the worst in the nation for getting food stamps to the needy within 30 days, as required by federal law.
The department, which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, ranks Pennsylvania 39th on a list of 53 that includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the paper said.
Critics accuse the commonwealth of scrimping on caseworkers and emphasizing fraud prevention even though food stamp fraud is rare.
Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare, said the department is working on a plan to improve timeliness, as the federal government ordered in December.
Bale said one reason was the number of people receiving food stamps — 1.8 million — and another was that many people wait until the last minute to submit paperwork, which leads to delays.
The paper, however, said USDA figures indicate that although several states process more claims than Pennsylvania, they do so more quickly.
In March, the U.S. Department of Labor criticized the state for "continued failure" to follow regulations requiring states to pay first-time unemployment benefits in a timely fashion.
Since January, the paper said, the public welfare department has also been slow to process thousands of claims by needy families for home energy assistance.
Allentown, PA 18102