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Burlington woman describes three months without food stamps

SNAPWe’ve reported frequently about the ongoing issues with the state’s food stamps delivery system, which have led to thousands of families facing delays in receiving the emergency help for food assistance and threats from  federal authorities that funding could be revoked.

Sarah, a single mom from Burlington, sent us a letter this week describing her experience with N.C. FAST , the benefits system that has been the crux of the problem at DHHS.

She last received food stamps in November, and said she’s only gotten food on the table because of help from her family.

Here’s her story, in her words:

I recertified Nov. 15, in hopes of keeping my benefits coming on the 5th of every month.

On Dec. 9, I received a letter stating that my check stubs were needed for recertification (I turned my paperwork in on the Nov. 15th deadline, and should have received benefits on Dec. 5 already).  I called Alamance County DSS and left a message explaining that my original check stubs were included in my paperwork.  If they got my paperwork, which they obviously did, then they also must have received my check stubs.  I received a call back three days later from a part-time worker who checked with my case worker and called me back to confirm that, yes, my case worker recalls seeing my check stubs.  Unfortunately, I was told, their scanner was broken and the applications couldn’t be processed before being scanned.

I asked if I could expect to receive my food stamps before Christmas.  She said she didn’t know.  Since then, I’ve heard nothing and I have been too frustrated to call again.

That was about six weeks ago.  Jan. 5th came and went.  Feb. 5th is right around the corner, at which time I will have spent three months waiting.  I feel luckier than some; I’ve had family and friends to rely on in this rough time, but it’s emotionally draining when you are working two jobs and still can’t afford to put food on the table without constantly asking people around you for help.  It’s embarrassing enough getting food stamps; having to ask multiple people for help and explain this situation is much worse.

I’d like to point out that I have not been notified either way about my pending application for recertification.  As a single mom for the past 14 years, the past three of which were spent as a full-time student, I’m familiar with the way the system works.

Whether you are approved or denied, you get a letter.  I have received nothing.  If I hadn’t Googled for news on this, I would have already assumed that I’m cut off.  I can only imagine how many people have heard nothing and received nothing.

I’m so close to being back on my feet, and this past three months without assistance has really set me back!  It makes me feel discouraged about ever getting to a point where I can get ahead enough to stop asking for this kind of help.

The crisis prompted a staffer from House Speaker Pro-Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, to ask legislative assistants Thursday to volunteer their time and help process applications.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ legislative liaison told lawmakers in an update this week that an estimated 7,512 pending applications and roughly 193 recertifications need to be resolved by the Feb. 10 deadline set by the U.S Department of Agriculture.

DHHS is hoping to meet the deadline through county workers processing applications over the weekend in Wake County, which accounts for nearly half of the statewide backlog, as Wayne Black, the head of the agency’s social services division, told the News & Observer in an article today.

“The counties are working hard,” Black told the N&O. “There are a lot of people working a lot of overtime. The USDA has really put it to us. This is it. It’s got to be done. Everybody understands that.”

We want to hear from more people affected by the N.C. FAST delays. You can reach reporter Sarah Ovaska, at sarah@ncpolicywatch.com, on the phone at (919) 861-1463 or through Twitter at @SarahOvaska.

3 Comments

  1. Steve Harrison

    January 31, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Ahh, that breaks my heart. For Sarah (from Burlington) give me a call if the food situation gets too tight. I’ll do what I can to help. I’m in the book (Gibsonville).

  2. Annie

    January 31, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    That’s a letter that needs to be forwarded to Robin Bailey, Jr. (the USDA Food and Nutritional Services regional administrator).

    It should also be forwarded to McCrory and Wos. But there’s no doubt in my mind that their core, private reactions would probably be something like: “Let them eat cake!”

  3. Sarah

    February 4, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you for your kind comments. As I told the author today, my case has been resolved now and I’m very grateful. I know that for me this has been an unnecessary hardship; for many others it’s been a nightmare. I’m one of the lucky ones. I just wanted to tell my story in hopes of putting a human touch on the issue as well as shining a spotlight on it. If nobody talks about it, we can’t expect action.