Food stamps backlog cost $21 million, state asking for more federal help

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.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

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.

5 Comments

  1. Alex

    April 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    It’s amazing how much states are now relying on Federal dollars to balance their budgets. For North Carolina and many other states, federal dollars represent 30% of their total budget. it wasn’t long ago that 15% was the norm. My question is what do we do when the federal dollars run out ? If we couldn’t print phony money, this time would have already been here !

  2. Jack

    April 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Seems as if the GOP had big problems with rolling out their new N.C. FAST program and cost tax payers millions of dollars.

    So, should we compare this failed roll out of N.C. FAST to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website roll out and talk about how disastrous it is and how it shows that the McCrory administration isn’t up to the task of running a state agency much less the state? Shall we talk about how if not for the McCrory administration and its appointment of Wos this state would be in better fiscal shape and how she isn’t worthy of being Director of DHHS? Is it right to talk about how the GOP wants to run state government as a business and is doing such a poor job of running the simplest of programs? How difficult is it too but something in the mail? Or should we talk about the hypocrisy of the GOP asking the Feds for money when their entire political ideology is based on the state doing-its-own-thing with no Washington involvement. An example of this is the McCrory administration refusing federal dollars to create a Health Exchange.

    How about we talk to the issue of how unfeeling and ruthless the McCrory, Wos and the GOP are toward people in need and how they want them to starve to death! At least it seems that way considering the unwillingness of Wos to send food assistance to between 20 and 30 thousand families. Because of this incident let’s call DHHS the Death Panel of NC because Death Panels were predicted by the GOP as a result of the ACA so let’s label DHHS as such.

    Also, just for fun, let’s call the $310,000 Joe Hauck received for 11 months of work at DHHS a payoff. We can call it a kickback if that seems better. Either way it seems apparent, doesn’t it, that Hauck is a really good friends of the McCrory and Wos and they wanted to pay him for his hard work at DHHS. Getting paid $310,000 for 11 months work may be fair pay for the work done and if not he probably has done some really hard work in the past somewhere else to justify getting that $310,000. But just for fun let’s say Hauck is a crony of the McCrory administration and that Hauck was paid off for something he did for the McCrory administration and that the McCrory administration felt confident enough to hire Hauck and pay him a large sum of money with tax payer’s dollars. That’s about $1,409 per hour Monday through Friday for his work at DHHS – Nice work if you can get it.

    Isn’t it fun to talk about these kind of things satirically?

  3. Alan

    April 18, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Jack,

    You’ll have to explain to them the meaning of “satirically”. These nuts think Stephen Colbert is actually on their side…

  4. ML

    April 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Maybe expanding Medicaid with federal dollars?

  5. Alan

    April 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    That would be tantamount to socialism!!! Guv’mint money is bad, unless it comes in the form of a handout for private schools, or corporate welfare for all those “job creators”.