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A man types on a computer keyboard in this Feb. 28, 2013 illustration file picture. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files) A man types on a computer keyboard in this Feb. 28, 2013 illustration file picture. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)  

Colorado officials want millions more to fix money-sucking state computer system

A state computer system for calculating food assistance benefits has cost Colorado $300 million in maintenance, repairs and upgrades since 2004 and still doesn’t work properly, according to the office of the state auditor.

The Colorado Benefits Management System (CBMS) needs another $35 million to keep it limping along, even though a previous $35 million in emergency repairs and upgrades didn’t address many ongoing problems.

“Is there a way to just go over to the power box and just turn it off and leapfrog forward to a new computer system?” state Sen. David Balmer is quoted as saying by the Denver Post during a recent meeting of the Legislative Audit Committee. “Constantly, every time something is wrong, it’s CBMS.”

Auditors found that the Department of Human Services issued $26 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2012 to people who didn’t qualify for them and turned down $11 million in benefits to people who did.

Part of the reason for the errors, the audit report noted, is because the Department hasn’t provided adequate training on the computer system for staff members in the many state departments that use it.

“By not ensuring that county department of human/social services caseworkers are appropriately trained on the importance of determining eligibility and benefit payments accurately, the Department risks significant overpayments and/or underpayments to SNAP participants,” the report reads. “Further, if the Department fails to ensure that its eligibility and payment error rates for SNAP are at or below federally required levels, the State may face federal sanctions.”

In 2012, the state legislature approved $11 million in state funds for the computer system and another $24.8 million came from federal matching grants. Although Kristin Russell, the secretary for technology at the Governor’s Office of Information Technology said in an email to the Denver Post that the cash infusion helped reduce wait times and prepare the computer system to implement the Affordable Care Act, it will need ongoing financial support to keep up with the times.

Much of the funding is for training staff to use the system properly once it’s been upgraded.

Paying for the upgrades, she said, is cheaper than switching to a new system.

The current funding requests ask for $13.4 million from the state and $21.9 million from the feds.

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