- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - With federal officials threatening to penalize Georgia for a backlog in its food stamp program, state officials on Thursday announced plans to request federal authorization to expedite food stamp distribution to the neediest of Georgia families.

The Division of Family and Children Services, which is part of Georgia’s Department of Human Services, is responding to a request from Gov. Nathan Deal to apply for a U.S. Department of Agriculture waiver to expedite applications for about 2,700 clients, DHS spokeswoman Ashley Fielding said in an email.

Staffers will work to ensure that tax dollars are only being spent on clients who are eligible for the services, she said. Agency officials have previously said understaffing, outdated technology and a substandard call center contributed to a case backlog. Thousands of Georgians have lost food stamp benefits or been blocked from applying.

Federal officials earlier this month threatened to cut up to $76 million in administrative funding as early as May 1 if the state doesn’t improve its food stamp system and alleviate the backlog of overdue cases.

In an April 1 letter to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service regional supervisor, DHS Commissioner Keith Horton said the agency has implemented several strategies to respond to the case backlog.

“Combined with the overtime, changes in our workload prioritization, data and performance reporting, specialized teams, and proactive call out strategies have allowed us to make significant progress in a compressed timeframe,” he said in the letter.

Horton and others are scheduled to discuss strategies to improve access to agency services and progress being made to address the case backlog with the media during a Friday morning conference call.

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