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Hope everyone’s enjoying their lunch, and this glorious spring weather, today.

First, the Charlotte Observer had this intriguing article about claims that a Charlotte hotel representative was able to cut corners obtaining a liquor license.

Also in Charlotte, StudentFirst Academy, a troubled charter school in its first year announced that it will shut down at the end of next week, leaving 300-plus students and their families to quickly find new schools just a few months away from the end of the school year. The school had major financial issues, and state education officials were slated to begin talks about revoking the school’s charter.

I wrote about a similar issue in the fall, when a Kinston charter school suddenly shut its door at the beginning of the school year.

Check out this compelling graphic over at the Atlantic that maps out how segregated the poor are in different parts of the country. Some of the worst segregation, reflected in the dark blues, is clustered in the northeastern part of the nation. Click here for more information about how the data was compiled.

Source: The Atlantic, theatlanticcities.com

Ever dream of checking out and quitting your job? The New York Times had this quirky video profile about an eccentric roller-blader in California who, it turns out, used to be a neurologist until giving it all up to roller-blade.

Fear not, I’m not just trying to make you watch a video about a California hippie. Like many things in life, there’s a North Carolina connection.  Turns out the doctor-turned-eccentric roller blader John Kitchin grew up on a North Carolina dairy farm.

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Stanley Furniture announced yesterday it was shutting down its Robbinsville plant, a move that will mean the loss of 400 jobs in a county with the state’s highest unemployment rate.

Robbinsville is the county seat for Graham County, a sparsely populated mountain community on the western edge of North Carolina in the Smoky Mountains.

The shutdown of the Robbinsville plant  and the“Young America” line of high-end furniture for nursery’s and children means the company will cease domestic production of furniture. As of Wednesday, the Young America website includes a prominent display that the furniture was  “Made with Care in Robbinsville, N.C.”

The plant will cease production of the line of baby and children’s furniture by the end of the month.

The company has not yet submitted what’s known as a WARN notice the N.C. Commerce Department, a required filing for companies that expect significant reductions in their workforces. (Click here to see other WARN notices about job losses in the state.)

Graham County has had unemployment rates in the double digits for years, and is considered among the most economically depressed parts of the state.

The  unemployment rate was 14.4 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in January, with a labor force of only 3.569 people, according to the most recently available unemployment data from the N.C. Commerce Department.

North Carolina overall has seen a dramatic drop in its unemployment rate, which was down to 6.4 percent in February, but that been largely because of a shrinking workforce. The state led the nation in job losses last month.

Stanley Furniture moved its U.S. headquarters to High Point from Virginia in 2012 as part of a deal that included incentives from the state.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that the closure of the Robbinsville plant will leave the company with a U.S.-based workforce of less than 100 people.

From the article:

The plant closing will reduce its domestic workforce by 81 percent, or to just 95 employees. It has kept assembly, finishing and warehousing operations in its former hometown of Stanleytown, Va., and in Martinsville, Va.

The decision also completes Stanley’s conversion from a vaunted U.S. manufacturer for nine decades to joining a crowded field as a global marketer. Stanley has 49 employees overseas.

“After a thorough review of both our own operations and the current marketplace for nursery and youth furniture, management and the board concluded that the Young America business could not achieve an acceptable level of revenue within an adequate time frame to assure sustainable profitability,” Glenn Prillaman, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

Interestingly, the company included this “Million American Jobs” video about the effects of moving manufacturing jobs overseas on its “About Robbinsville” section of the Young American furniture line website.

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The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement Tuesday saying it believed the agency “reasonably achieved” a deadline to clear the state’s backlog of pending food stamp cases.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos  wrote in a letter Tuesday to USDA Regional Director Robin Bailey that the backlog was down to 375 cases, including in Guilford County where a previously unknown backlog of 8,100 cases was discovered last week.

“We have made tremendous efforts to meet the March 31, 2014 deadline and have implemented strategies to ensure that the workload requirements are met and families will receive timely benefits,” Wos wrote.

The state had seen backlog grow to as high as 20,000 to 30,000 food stamp cases with families waiting for weeks and months following the troubled launch last year of a new online-based benefits delivery system  called N.C. FAST.

USDA, which oversees the nation’s food stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) called the delays in North Carolina “unacceptable” and threatened in December and January to rescind $88 million in federal funding if the state didn’t quickly clear the backlog.

Check back with N.C. Policy Watch tomorrow, where we’ll have a more extensive article about the food stamps backlog, new budget concerns and interviews with some affected families.

Click here to read Wos letter. You can see pending  caseload data here and here.

Usda April 1 2014 by NC Policy Watch

 

The head of Guilford County’s social services department announced his resignation Monday, days after a previously unknown backlog of 8,000 food stamp recertification cases was discovered Wednesday.

NC FAST logoRobert Williams resigned following a meeting Monday, according to the Greensboro News & Record, and explained his departure with a quote from a 1986 hit single of Janet Jackson’s.

“I felt it was best for me and best for the board,” Williams told the News & Record. “I feel like we’ve done some good work, done some good things while I’ve been here. But sometimes, to quote Janet Jackson, it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?”

The Guilford backlog, which was estimated to be at 8,100, last Wednesday, was down to a manageable few dozen cases today, according to the News & Record.

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The state Department of Health and Human Services is racing to meet a Monday deadline to clear a backlog of thousands of food stamps cases, but the benefits system that distributes the food assistance will be shut down over much of the weekend.

ncfastThe N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology) system will be shutting down at 3 p.m. Saturday for scheduled maintenance to update federal poverty guidelines for a separate April 1 deadline the state is facing, according to DHHS communications staff.

 

The system was initially scheduled to go down at noon but was pushed back to 3 p.m. in order to allow counties more time to tackle backlogged cases.

It’s unclear if it will be enough time, with  staff in Guilford County contending with a recently realized  3,000 to 8,000 backlog of pending food stamps recertification cases.

Several of those families, including those like Melanie Richards, have been waiting months for benefits, and have turned to food banks or are faced with bare cupboards.

Richards, who contacted N.C. Policy Watch Friday, said she’s been waiting since January for Guildford County to recertify her food stamps, and used money earmarked in her limited budget for gas and housing to buy food for herself and her four children.

“I’m about to lose my place, using money I don’t have for food,” Richards said. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay anything for April.”

The scheduled shutdown of the NC FAST system tomorrow creates another challenge for the state agency to meet a Monday deadline set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clear a backlog of food stamps cases that had persisted through most of last year.  At risk is $88 million in funding the state receives from USDA for monitoring the food stamps program.

The sudden discovery on Wednesday of 3,000 to 8,000 pending certifications in Guilford County put Monday’s deadline, which the state thought it was otherwise on track to meet, in question.

The troubled roll-out of the state’s new benefits delivery system last year resulted in delays for thousands of North Carolina families waiting for emergency food assistance.  USDA officials, which oversee the distribution of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) sent several warnings that the North Carolina problems needed to be resolved before a strongly-worded January letter that told N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos that it may rescind administrative funding to the state.

“Citizens of North Carolina that need help putting food on the table are not receiving the basic level of responsiveness and quality of service that they deserve from their government,” a USDA official wrote in a January letter to Wos.

Guilford County Manger Marty Lawing said the social services division informed him this week that it had a backlog of thousands of cases that hadn’t been logged into the NC FAST system. He estimated that backlog to be around 3,000, down from earlier estimates of 8,100 cases, though he added that concrete case load information was not available.

“The primary focus now is to get as many cases reviewed as we can,” Lawing said.

The county will launch an internal investigation next week as to what led to the previously unknown backlog.

Lawing said the scheduled shut-down for the NC FAST system is an added challenge.

“We’ll do the best we can with the time we have,” Lawing said.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Greensboro Democrat, said was upset to hear about the situation in Guilford County, and the slow response over the last several months to deal with the issues N.C. FAST has had distributing food stamps.

“It’s still a very ineffective system,” Robinson said about N.C. FAST.

She also said the mishandling of the food stamps has left her and fellow Democrats asking for a change of leadership at DHHS.

“We’re very tired and frustrated and we’ve expressed that,” Robinson said. “The governor needs to take responsibility. It’s at their level, the citizens are suffering.”