USDA tells DHHS food stamps problems “unacceptable,” warns it may suspend admin funding

Federal officials have “grave concern” about the continuing problems North Carolina is having in its food stamps delivery system, and threatened in December to suspend the state’s funding to run the program.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos got word of the potential suspension in a Dec. 11 letter sent to her by Donald Arnette, a regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food and nutritional safety division.

“This letter serves as advance notification that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) may soon be subject to the suspension or disallowance of administrative funds,” Arnette wrote in the letter.

The letter was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch from members of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus. USDA has since provided a copy of the same letter (see below.)

In a Dec. 23 response provided by DHHS, Wos told federal officials that it was working to resolve the issues by working closely with social services workers on the county level.

“We want to assure you that we will continue to implement corrective actions to resolve the concerns raised in your most recent letter,” Wos wrote in the response. “We trust these corrective actions demonstrate our commitment to ensure that we comply with statutory requirements.”

A spokeswoman for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services said federal authorities were still looking into the matter and had not made any determinations about what would happen to North Carolina’s funding.

Thousands of poor families were unable to receive food stamps last year when DHHS implemented a new computer system, NC FAST, resulting in a spike of demand for food at emegency food pantries in the state after many families were left without access to the federally-funded food vouchers . In an investigation last month, Raleigh television station WRAL found the agency downplayed the severity of the crisis.

The delays of food stamps are one of several  issues the agency has faced fierce criticism over under the leadership of Wos, a Greensboro doctor and prominent Republican fundraiser appointed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last January to run the agency.

USDA, leaning on estimates provided by DHHS,  indicated in the Dec. 11 letter that 20,000 families were still experience delays in December, with nearly a third waiting three or more months for their food stamps.

“These delays are completely unacceptable and a serious failure on the part of North Carolina,” Arnette wrote in the letter to Wos.  “We have grave concern for the low income people of North Carolina who are waiting for assistance.”

N.C. Policy Watch obtained a copy of the letter (see below) from members of the N.C. General Assembly’s black caucus who have been critical of the health agency’s performance and Wos’ leadership.

State Rep. Garland Pierce, a Scotland County Democrat and head of the legislative black caucus, said a copy of the letter was given to Democratic lawmakers by a unnamed citizen.  They did not have copies of any responses DHHS might have sent to the federal agency.

“Legislators have the right to know about these things,” he said. “This department is just in disarray and it seems it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

Members of the black legislative caucus are holding press conferences in Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Raleigh tomorrow to discuss the letter and other DHHS matters.

Last week, DHHS disclosed that it had sent nearly 49,000 Medicaid cards containing the private medical information of children to the wrong addresses. The agency has said the mailings violated federal health privacy laws, and violations of that type often result in hefty fines.

McCrory has defended Wos’ performance in the year she’s run the largest state agency, and has said the $18 billion agency was in bad shape when he inherited it from his Democratic predecessors.

“There’s been 10 years of operational neglect – not only in that department, but others,” Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday according to the News & Observer. “You can’t fix that in one year.”

Note: This post has changed from its original form to include the Dec. 23 response HHS Sec. Aldona Wos sent to USDA.

Questions? Comment? Reporter Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

 

Us Daw Os 121114 by NC Policy Watch

 

Wos Response by NC Policy Watch

 

12 Comments

  1. Skeptic

    January 9, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Just wait five minutes, McMoron’ll defend her again. Jesus.

  2. Alan

    January 10, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Can we please, please get our $1 back?

  3. Gene Hoglan

    January 10, 2014 at 11:56 am

    These people all belong in prison.

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    January 10, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Especially the one’s that brought us to this lowly state of affairs. This computer system has been in the works since what…2003?

  5. Alan

    January 10, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    LSD, remember now, you aren’t allowed to go back past the last election, it’s all the fault of the state GOP.

    Not bad for someone who terms the current economic state “the Obamaa Economy”.

  6. Jess

    January 11, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    It sounds like they are messing it up on purpose.

  7. LayintheSmakDown

    January 12, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I guess I am not allowed to go back beyond the last election because it does not fit the narrative. But thanks for the ad hominem attack on me rather than presenting evidence that this problem was not in the works since about 2003. Good try though…not.

  8. LayintheSmakDown

    January 12, 2014 at 10:57 am

    And when Pat and Co. has had 6 years and things are not turning around at all…then he can own it. I think Obama has had plenty of time to turn this thing around. Oh, and in NC in spite of Obama the current NC administration has done great things…heck we have added jobs and the unemployment rate is decreasing rapidly is just the first effect.

  9. […] to the wrong addresses as well as the recent disclosure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture may penalize the state for the bungled food stamps delivery […]

  10. Silence DoGood

    January 14, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I just made an explanation on how to save out of poverty, for those interested. Let me know what you think. Take care.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVat9VBsSCg&feature=c4-overview&list=UUh3B6Znt_L6Ck3SbqVDc6eA

  11. Areyoukidding

    January 15, 2014 at 7:39 am

    I beg to differ, layinthe. NC has a better unemployment rate because there is no funding for it. So, if you lose your job you can’t apply for benefits, it makes it look like the unemployment rate is better. Plus, no state tax refund and you cannot declare any dependents unless you make under $14,000. Check your facts. NC has NOT gotten better. They are just great at covering the true facts up. Hence the lies from DHHS. People need to open up their eyes to the truth. Our state is in ruin. Funny how no other state is having this happen……

  12. LayintheSmakDown

    January 17, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Are you kidding AYK. Did you actually read your comment? The unemployment rate is not solely dependent on who is filing with the employment office and getting UI payments. There are other surveys of entities such as actual employers and households.