N.C. Department of Health and Human Services staff confirmed Thursday that dealing with the massive backlog of food stamps cases cost $21 million in unanticipated costs, in overtime and other costs at both the state and county level.
Now, state officials are hoping that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees the food stamps program and had previously threatened to rescind $88 million in funding, will cover some of those costs.
On March 27, DHHS officials requested an additional $12 million from USDA officials to cover costs incurred at the county level, according to documents released Thursday afternoon by DHHS.
A spokesperson from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services division confirmed the agency received the request and are reviewing it.
A backlog that eventually grew to between 20,000 and 30,000 low-income families waiting for food assistance stemmed from the state’s implementation last year of a complicated benefits delivery system, called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology.). USDA officials wrote state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos letters in December and January saying agency officials were alarmed by the delays that “create undue hardship for the most vulnerable citizens of North Carolina.”
On Tuesday, USDA confirmed that state officials had succeeded in meeting deadlines to clear the backlog and said it would continue to monitor the state.
The recent request for additional federal funding says that counties hired temporary workers and moved staff to deal with the backlog.
“The increase is due to the drastic increases over the last year in county staff payroll to keep up with the back log of applications for SNAP,” stated a budget narrative from DHHS, “The increased caseloads, during a time we have implemented a new computer system that will speed up the certification process for clients for multiple programs simultaneously, has placed our counties in a situation where the current staff dedicated to SNAP was not sufficient to process applications.”
N.C. Policy Watch first requested information and details about the budget overages for the food stamps program on March 31. Information was not provided until Thursday afternoon, as state lawmakers received an update about the N.C. FAST program. (Scroll down to see document released by DHHS.)
North Carolina’s public records law states that all documents created in the course of public businesses belong to the public itself, and require government agencies to provide access to records “as promptly as possible.”
Several media outlets have detailed issues accessing public records under Wos’ tenure. An Associated Press reporter waited seven months for DHHS to respond to a request for work product records related to Joe Hauck, a DHHS consulate with personal connections to Wos. The news agency reported it ultimately received a handful of memorandums for Hauck, who earned $310,000 from the state agency for 11 months of work.
Also in March, the News & Observer reported it and Raleigh television station WRAL asked last September for records related to the sudden departure of state’s Medicaid director Carol Steckel, who left less than nine months after being hired. Months after the request, no records have been released.