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Woman asked to pay back food assistance after admin error

Woman asked to pay back food stamps after admin error

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A Colorado Springs woman says she is being asked to pay back nearly $1,500 in food assistance after an administrative error by the El Paso County Department of Human Services.

When Michelle Schankin began receiving food assistance, she was relieved.

"I was like, 'Whew, stress off of me,'" she told KRDO NewsChannel 13.  "I was the only one working. I had three jobs trying to support me, him and my son.  It was crazy."

But a year later, she got a letter from DHS saying that she had been overpaid for five months in 2011 -- a total of nearly $1,500.  The letter stated that the issue was a DHS administrative error.

"In my job, if I mess up, I'm the one held accountable," she said.  "So I don't understand why they can't be held accountable for that."

Schankin is now off food assistance, so instead of deducting the money from her future food stamp allowance, the money will be taken out of her tax return.

"That's rent for at least two or three months. That's groceries. That's clothes, toys," she said through tears.  "Having a kid is hard."

According to Arturo Serrano, the economic assistance manager for the Department of Human Services, errors in food assistance are not widespread, but it happens.  The policy is a federal policy and is out of DHS' hands, according to Serrano.

"There's a wide range of cases where families or a person will be receiving a certain amount, then it was determined that for whatever reason (they) weren't allotted that amount and they have to pay back," Serrano said.

Serrano said that Schankin, and others who are notified of recovery of benefits, have 60 days to appeal the decision.  The appeal option is stated in the mailed notice.

Schankin said that when she called a representative, she was only given the option to either deduct her future food assistance allowance or have it taken out of her tax return.  She worries that others in a similar position may have had to deal with this and were forced to follow through without a fight.

There are over 70,000 people on food assistance in El Paso County.

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