The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is expected to meet a federal deadline today to clear backlogged food stamps cases, according to information released before the weekend that the vast majority of the thousands of people waiting for food stamps had been helped.
The agency is under a deadline for today set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clear a backlog and provide the federally-funded assistance to vulnerable citizens who have been waiting months and weeks for food or lose administrative funding.
In numbers released Friday, the agency indicated it had addressed 90 percent of the backlogged cases that existed on Jan. 23, when the USDA issued its February deadline.
The agency is expected to give an update on its backlog later today.
UPDATE, from DHHS: Today, the DHHS staff is reaching out to county social services agencies to confirm final numbers and circumstances surrounding any cases that may remain outstanding. Secretary Wos will provide an update to legislative leadership at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Legislative Oversight Committee meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. We will make our report to USDA available at that time.
Before the weekend, 1,500 households were still waiting statewide for their applications to be processed, and DHHS officials indicated state DHHS and some county social services staff would be coming in over the weekend to get through the final cases.
Tens of thousands of low-income families had experienced delays, some months in lengths, since last spring in receiving food stamps after the state implemented a new benefits delivery system called NC FAST. County-level works across the state had immediate problems in getting the new system to work, leading to thousands of families waiting weeks and months for food stamps and depleted shelves at food pantries around the state.
It’s one of several major breakdowns the agency has seen under the leadership of Wos, a Greensboro doctor and prominent Republican fundraiser appointed last January to head the state’s largest agency. A botched launch of a Medicaid billing system mid-year resulted in thousands of medical providers going unpaid for Medicaid services and a potential class-action lawsuit against the agency while DHHS is also facing repercussions for violating federal medical privacy laws when nearly 50,000 children had their Medicaid cards mailed to the wrong addresses.
State health leaders, including HHS Secreatary Aldona Wos, have faced criticism for the agency’s slow response and reluctance to acknowledge the severity of the crisis until USDA’s threats to withhold funding were made public in early January when correspondence from the federal agency was leaked to Democratic members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Wos apologized to lawmakers in January for the problems with the food stamps and other issues, but also said her agency had been overwhelmed by the launch of the Affordable Care Act.
Wos is expected to be in front of lawmakers again tomorrow, for a scheduled HHS legislative oversight committee hearing.