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Mail is not kind to food stamps THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JACKSON - The state Department of Human Services says food stamps valued at nearly $400,000 that were mailed out in Mississippi last year never made it to recipients.
During the first six months of this year, an estimated $200,000 worth of stamps were lost in the mail, agency officials said.
The lost stamps meant 1,868 families who relied on food stamps had to wait up to 10 days for replacements last year. During the first half of this year, 988 households sought replacements, DHS figures show.
''They are robbing the poor,'' said Bob Martin, the agency's director of Electronic Benefit Transfer. ''We are fairly confident the vast majority is happening in the post office.''
In addition to mail losses, the totals include recipient losses after food stamps were delivered.
Martin said the problem is expected to improve when the state replaces paper food stamps with a card similar to a bank debit card in its Electronic Benefit Transfer program.
Meanwhile, postal officials are working with DHS to try to trim stamp losses.
In recent months, a Jackson postal employee and another in Natchez pleaded guilty to mail theft charges involving food stamps. A contract mail hauler in another area of the state is under investigation but has not been charged.
''What's happening is we are losing trays of mail,'' said Supervisory Postal Inspector Guy Robinson of Jackson. "One tray of food stamps may be worth $15,000.
''We can confirm that the losses coming through the post office are unacceptable, and we have taken steps to curtail the losses,'' said Robinson, referring to the two convictions and the third case under investigation.
The loss represents a fraction of the 3 million to 5 million pieces of mail that go through Jackson every day, Robinson said.
''I think our losses are extremely low in terms of mail theft from within the post office,'' he said. ''We are losing three food stamp letters out of a thousand. When you consider that number, that is low.''
The Department of Human Services measures in dollars, not parcels.
Reported mail losses statewide for 1999 totaled $394,310. During that period, more than $147 million in food stamp benefits were mailed in Mississippi.
During the first six months of this year, mail losses amounted to $199,412, compared to $68.5 million in food stamps sent through the mail, statistics show.
Martin said that when the loss goes above three-tenths of a percent of the quarterly total of food stamps mailed, the state is penalized. DHS paid $6,091 for April through June, when the loss totaled $109,013 out of more than $34 million in food stamps sent through the mail to Mississippi families.
Stamp losses started to climb in March 1997, the month the state adopted welfare reform and began to cut people from welfare rolls.
But Martin said it is not the reform program driving up the theft losses. At the same time, the state switched from handing out food stamps at county offices to delivering a majority of them by mail.
A majority of the food stamps are sent by first class or certified mail. Ten counties require recipients to pick them up at offices, Martin said.
He said it appeared that most of the losses are from certified mail deliveries in which the recipient must sign for the stamps.
Willis C. Humphreys, 45, of Ridgeland, was arrested shortly after midnight Nov. 13 when he took two trays of food stamps from the General Mail Facility in Jackson where he worked as a mail handler, according to court records.
Humphreys pleaded guilty Feb. 7 to embezzlement of mail by a postal employee. He was sentenced in April to three years probation, a $1,500 fine and $504.93 restitution to the state treasurer. The food stamps were recovered.
Former postal letter carrier Leon Williams of Natchez pleaded guilty June 20 to taking one letter containing food coupons. The incident happened Aug. 24, 1999, in Adams County. Williams, 44, is waiting sentencing.
-- Doris (email@example.com), August 15, 2000
If we can't trust our fearless men and women of the U.S. Postal Service--who will not let rain, sleet, or snow deter them from delivering the mail--who can we trust?
-- Uncle Fred (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 15, 2000.