Food stamp sign-up issues traced to employees putting wrong info into the Ohio Benefits system

Additional training throughout February to make sure similar mistakes don't happen again
Posted: 11:16 AM, Feb 06, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-07 01:03:00Z

CLEVELAND — The holiday season was not one to remember for Greg Toorish.

Around Thanksgiving, he moved into a homeless shelter. Around Christmas, he tried to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as well as Medicaid through the Ohio Benefits system.

"For some reason, we updated the updated address to where I was living and everything was defaulting to the old address," said Toorish. "So I was missing these phone interviews to get the paperwork rolling."

Greg Toorish talks to News 5 about his difficulty getting SNAP benefits because of what turned out to be user error.

Toorish isn't alone.

In August, Ohio transferred about a million food and cash assistance programs to Ohio Benefits, which they had already been using to track Medicaid. A Department of Job and Family Services (JFS) spokesperson says the move is intended to streamline benefits by using just one program.

"We can help the client submit the application, but a lot of clients, due to problems with this new system, are not actually getting their eligibility interviews," said Greater Cleveland Food Bank CEO Kristin Warzocha. "They're being denied the benefit even though they should be receiving it."

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank helps thousands of people apply for SNAP every year and Warzocha says she's heard a few stories just like Toorish's, where information goes to the wrong address and causes qualified applicants to miss out on benefits.

Calls come into The Greater Cleveland Food Bank where these workers help direct callers to services like SNAP.

Warzocha also says callers have been stuck on hold, sometimes for more than an hour, trying to complete the last interview to lock in their benefits. A JFS spokesperson tells News 5 the phone system is designed to be as accommodating as possible, including a feature that gives callers a time to call back. Warzocha says many people calling in for these interviews do it on a lunch break and can't necessarily wait for a later time.

"It doesn't appear that this system was developed with the client in mind," said Warzocha.

Because of the problems, Toorish says he hasn't been able to get any health insurance for months and he still doesn't have SNAP benefits, making a time when money is already tight even harder.

JFS says the system is not to blame. Instead, they say the problem with notices going to the wrong addresses has been tracked back to errors made when Cuyahoga County employees put the information into the system.

As a result, the JFS says there will be additional testing for employees to avoid similar problems in the future.