I checked in with Dale Fleming, a top county Health and Human Services Agency official, to get her response to the federal review of the county’s food stamps program this afternoon.

Fleming said the report “reflects a system in flux.”

The federal agency visited San Diego in November and December, she said, when some of the county’s new programs had only been going for a month..

“By no means are we in the same condition that we were in when they came in,” she said. “I can say that we’ve got improvements in place and in the process.”

The review highlighted long waits, lost documents and the county’s emphasis on fraud, many of the same issues raised in our recent special report, Out of Reach.

Fleming promised even more improvements will speed up the county’s processing of applications. For example, she said some new programs for processing mail will cut down on the number of documents lost, though she said she couldn’t provide numbers to demonstrate that reduction.

The review said the county’s implementation of its new business model had been rushed.

Fleming disagreed with that assessment. She said the county started planning the changes in 2007 and designed them in 2008. The implementation began last year and will continue through next month.

Fleming said her team is “going through the report line by line” and will provide the state with a written response within 45 days.

She said the frustrations and issues described in the review are to be expected.

“We’re changing a system that was pretty much the same for 30 years,” she said. “We don’t expect to have reached the goal. This is going to continue to improve over time.”

— KELLY BENNETT

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