Michelle Ford hasn’t received food stamp allotments since December, and the Greensboro mother says she’s out of options in trying to feed herself and her three children.
“We don’t have anything to eat,” Ford said. “This the way it’s been for the last two months, it seems like it’s just getting worse and worse.”
Ford usually receives $692 in food stamps a month to keep her family fed, but her January benefits never appeared. She said she’s neglected paying her light bill, car payment and other bills in order to keep her family fed.
“It’s been horrible,” she said, her voice clenched with tears. Her 18-year-old daughter stays with friends in order to get meals at night and was fired from a job at a McDonald’s stemming over a dispute about food she was taking to share with her family.
Ford’s problems come despite the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services declaring it has “reasonably achieved ” an April 1 deadline set by federal officials to resolve a backlog of federally-funded food stamps cases statewide that had been in the tens of thousands for needy families.
A backlog of food stamps cases persisted for most of 2013 in the state when DHHS fully implemented a complicated benefits delivery system called N.C. FAST  (Families Accessing Services Through Technology). County-level workers struggled to get the system to work, and cases piled up with some going weeks or months without needed food assistance.
In Guilford County, where Ford lives, the state discovered in the week before the April 1 deadline that workers had been keeping as many as 8,1000 recertification cases in a separate system then the N.C. FAST benefits delivery system. The head of the county’s social services director resigned  shortly after the backlog became public.
DHHS officials now believe 279 applications and recertifications have been pending beyond what federal guidelines call for, according to the recent figures released by the agency. Guilford County only shows 17 pending cases, though it’s unclear whether cases like Ford’s are being accounted for. Click here  to see the state’s latest caseload numbers.
Ford said she’s called a hotline number in Guilford County twice about the food stamps delay, but never heard back from officials despite promises messages would be returned within 24 hours.
Efforts to reach Guilford County social services staff to comment about Ford’s situation were not successful Thursday. Robert Williams, the longtime head of the agency’s social services department, resigned soon after the backlog was discovered.
Marty Lawing, Guilford’s County Manager, said he thought most people had been helped but that some people’s applications may have deleted. Workloads have been shifted around the department to make sure people’s benefits are being processed, he said.
“I don’t think there’s a backlog at this point,” Lawing said.
Ford recently lost a retail job when she was hurt, and is trying to scrape together money to buy food with occasional jobs she gets to paint houses. She’s expecting to receive a shut-off notice any day and fears losing her car to repossession, despite only owing a remaining few hundred dollars for her truck.
She cries when she thinks about how she’s failed to keep her children fed.
“I’ve never been this low in my life,” Ford said.