N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced at a legislative hearing this morning that her department met a federal deadline yesterday to clear a backlog of families waiting for emergency food assistance.
Wos told lawmakers that “Herculean efforts” were used by county-based and state workers to address more than 23,000 households that, in late January, had been waiting weeks or months for federally-funded food stamps.
DHHS used 290 state state, hired temporary workers, made home visits and used volunteer time offered by a handful of legislative assistants to meet the deadline, she said.
She said there were only 25 cases remaining of the thousands the U.S. Department of Agriculture called to be eliminated. The federal agency threatened withholding $80 million in funding in December and January if North Carolina didn’t quickly address the issue.
The logjam of cases first began popping up last spring as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services implemented pieces of a complex benefits delivery system called NC FAST that county-level workers had difficulty maneuvering or even getting to work in some case.
“I can assure you that DHHS will continue to work as aggressively as we have,” Wos said.
While both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they were pleased the vast majority of the backlog had been handled, some expressed concern about how long it took the state agency to ensure needy families were getting food.
“I’m very gratified that we finally have this backlog behind us,” said state Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. “The thing that disappoints me that is that it took seven months to address the backlog and we had several thousand people harmed in the process.”
The agency will need to clear the entire backlog or food stamp applications and recertifications by March 31, currently at 14,333 recertifications and 754 applications, according to DHHS documents. (13,821 of the recertifications are only one to 14 days behind, and are considered “timely” by DHHS and USDA)
Below is the letter that Wos sent to USDA officials yesterday.