USDA still unhappy with NC’s slow response to food stamps crisis

NC HHS Sec. Aldona Wos

NC HHS Sec. Aldona Wos

There was more bad news over the weekend regarding the state’s ability to disperse food stamps to North Carolina system.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, who had told  N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos in December it would suspend administrative funding if North Carolina didn’t address the 20,000-plus backlog, sent another letter last week saying the department’s best efforts to fix the problem weren’t good enough.

A copy of the letter was released by DHHS at 4:47 p.m. Friday.

From Robin Bailey Jr. a regional administrator for USDA’s Food and Nutritional Services (FNS), Jan. 23 letter to Wos:

“FNS is alarmed by the persistent problems despite our extensive technical assistance and repeated communications concerning the severity of the situation. Citizens of North Carolina that need help putting food on the table are not receiving the basic level of responsiveness and quality of service that they deserve from their government. Continued delays create undue hardship for the most vulnerable citizens of North Carolina.

Click here to read the entire letter.

The letter sets a firm Feb. 10 date for state officials to have processed all the backlogged applications for people that are considered hardship cases, anyone waiting more than three months for food stamps and any recertification of food stamps that have been delayed more than 90 days.

If that Feb. 10 deadline isn’t met, USDA will receive a formal warning that could lead to suspension of federal funding for state administrative costs.

Getting better? DHHS says yes but USDA not so sure

DHHS’ Sherry Bradsher, who heads the state agency’s public health division, released a statement saying the state agency was still working on the backlog, and was unhappy with the prospect of losing funding.

“We strongly disagree with the federal government’s threat to withhold Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administrative funds, which could adversely impact counties’ abilities to assist families in need,” Bradsher wrote in a statement.

DHHS backlog data from Jan. 7 showed that 39,000 households were waiting on Jan. 7 for the federally-funded food stamps, disturbed through a program called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.) That’s up from the 20,000 household backlog that USDA called “unacceptable” in December.

Revised North Carolina numbers on Jan. 21 showed a backlog of more than 23,000 but Bailey notes it was unclear if that decrease was because duplicative applications were removed, or if families that needed food were getting help. DHHS officials told lawmakers earlier this month that one reason for the high backlog was because there with duplicated applications.

USDA officials also didn’t seem to buy Wos’ explanation that the state agency’s requirements under the  Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) implementation caused thousands of families to receive needed food stamps.

“It should be noted that many other States have implemented ACA without the dramatic impacts on SNAP that have occurred in North Carolina,” Bailey wrote.

Are you or someone you know waiting for food stamps? N.C. Policy Watch would like to hear from you. Email reporter Sarah Ovaska at [email protected] or call her at (919) 861-1463.

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