Maryland caseworkers have incorrectly administered the federal food stamp program and kept thousands of Maryland residents from receiving the benefits for which they are eligible, says a report issued by the General Accounting Office.

About 4,300 Marylanders were hurt by the lapses, according to a highly critical GAO report released Thursday.

According to the story in Friday's Baltimore Sun, the report blames caseworkers for incorrectly determining eligibility in the program, failing to provide households with the required 30 days to complete the application process, and failing to document the reason for turning down people.

The state provided a written response to the report, saying that it is accurate and "an indictment" of the way part of the food stamp program is handled.

Maryland officials said the monthly average of households receiving food stamps in 1985 was 114,000 households or 285,000 people.

The 41-page report looked at a sample of cases handled during fiscal 1985, the most recent year for which data was available in Maryland.

In one case, GAO officials described a 61-year-old Montgomery County woman whose food stamp application was denied because caseworkers concluded that she had not properly documented the $100 monthly medical deduction that she claimed for her heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney ailment.

However, GAO officials found caseworkers never informed the woman that she had to provide the documentation, which it is required to do.

The woman eventually did get assistance after she reapplied, but the GAO report said she was atypical because of her determination. Most food stamp applicants, GAO officials said, do not have the education or skills to know their rights.

But Larry Hunt, a Maryland Department of Human Resources administrator, blamed the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service Division, the federal agency that administers food stamp programs, for failing to provide adequate guidance.