San Diego County still doesn’t process food stamps applications fast enough, but it appears to be getting better. As we explained in our special report Out of Reach, federal law requires counties to process food stamps applications within 30 days. San Diego County failed to meet the federal standard for more than 40 percent of applications each month for the first six months of 2009, according to the state Department of Social Services.

From July to October of last year, the county still failed to meet that federal standard, but its failure rate dropped to less than 40 percent of applications each month, with October registering at 21.77 percent, according to updated state numbers. Here’s how the monthly figures look:

Several factors could’ve contributed to the improving rate, including reorganizing how county centers handled cases, said Dale Fleming, director of strategic operations for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.

Last April, the county began putting into effect some of those changes, which included training county workers to be able to process applications for more than one program, Fleming said. The county also switched from having an individual worker handle all aspects of one case to teams of workers handling different parts of a case, Fleming said.

Fleming also said the improvements might stem from the efforts of nonprofits and volunteers who’ve been briefing applicants about what documents to bring when they first apply, cutting down the time it takes to get their application processed.

Fleming said she’s encouraged that the county’s rate each month appears to be improving. But, she said, her goal is to process all food stamps applications within 30 days.

— DAGNY SALAS

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