The office of one of the top Republican lawmakers is asking legislative assistants to volunteer their time to process applications for the state’s troubled food stamps program, which is facing a fast-approaching Feb. 10 deadline set by federal authorities.
A staffer for state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, the N.C. House Speaker Pro-Tem, asked legislative assistants in the House and Senate to help the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services process thousands of applications for people that have been waiting weeks or months for the federally-funded food assistance.
The state program that process benefits, N.C. FAST, has experienced significant problems since its roll-out last year, leading to a backlog of thousands of families waiting for food stamps and a December warning from federal authorities that the state’s “serious failure” to process food stamp application could lead to a stop in administrative funding for the program. (Click here to read a post from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center’s Alexandra Forter Sirota about the potential economic effects of North Carolina’s food stamps crisis.)
The state must eliminate a backlog of more than 7,500 households by Feb. 10 in order to meet USDA’s requirements, according to information sent to DHHS by lawmakers.
A message was left Thursday evening with the DHHS communications office seeking a comment.
“This is a WIN-WIN opportunity!!,” wrote Anne Murtha from Stam’s office in the email sent at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. “You will win by gaining first-hand experience with how the Food Nutrition System (FNS) operates and gain valuable experience processing claims.
“The BIGGEST winners will be the many people who are waiting to get assistance,” Murtha wrote.
Murtha’s request included an update from Adam Sholar, DHHS legislative liaison, that put the outstanding backlog of untimely cases at 10,000, most in Wake and Cumberland counties, and 15,000 additional households waiting for recertifications of their food stamps statewide. That’s a significant drop from more than 23,000 applications pending earlier this month.
The USDA is requiring that 7,512 of those households receive food stamps by Feb. 10, Sholar wrote in his Jan. 30 email to lawmakers.
“For this to happen, each application and recertification will need to be worked by a human being at the county department of social services,” Sholar wrote.
State Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat that has been critical of HHS Secretary Aldona Wos’ handling of the food stamps problems, said she’s concerned about the security of the private information of food stamps applicants if volunteers are coming in to handle the sensitive applications.
“It’s totally inappropriate,” Parmon said, about legislative staff being asked to volunteer to process food stamps applications.