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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.

Coal ash clean upWasn’t it just several weeks ago that Gov. Pat McCrory was stating plainly that North Carolina needed to move its coal ash waste sites away from water as is being done in South Carolina? Now after much hemming and hawing and backtracking, it’s clear that no such things is going to happen — at least not with any help from the Guv. Yesterday, McCrory made his position reversal/wimp out official with an announcement that moving all the ash is now no longer part of his plan. Citizens will no doubt feel much safer however with his proposal to change the law so that, as WRAL reports:  “power companies would have to give the public faster notice of coal ash spills.”

In fairness, not everything the Guv had to say was terrible. As noted in a statement by Molly Diggins at the Sierra Club:

“We appreciate that the Governor has come forward with the outline of a plan to address the problem of leaking coal ash pits that are contaminating our state’s waters.

We are concerned, however, that the broad outline of the plan announced today appears to be prospective, and does not seem to address the immediate need to remove the source of contamination from pits next to waterways. Read More

The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission has finalized the proposed safety regulations that companies will need to follow in order to frack for natural gas in our state. Over the past 18 months the commission has adopted 120 rules they believe will ensure that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

Still environmentalists worry the process has been rushed. Mary Maclean Asbill with the North Carolina Environmental Partnership and Southern Environmental Law Center says there are very real concerns that fracking will contaminate the state’s groundwater.  Asbill appeared last weekend on News and Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss the coalition’s concerns. (Click below to hear an excerpt of that interview; the full radio segment is available here.)

The next step will be a series of public hearings this August in Wake, Lee and Rockingham counties, giving citizens one last chance to weigh in. The Commission is slated to present the rules to the General Assembly by October.

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Some of North Carolina’s teachers who have reached the end of their ropes are making their reasons for quitting their jobs very public.

As reported by The Carolina Mercury, Pam Lilley, a school library media specialist in Cornelius, N.C., created a Pinterest-style website last year where teachers who could not afford to teach any longer or who were outraged by the legislature’s education policy decisions and had decided to quit could publish either their resignation letters or reasons for quitting for the world to read.

“I have to take a stand somehow, and one of the ways I can do that is by quitting,” said one teacher, Anastasia Trueman. “I hate that I have to do that because it’s hurting the kids more than anybody, but if I really cannot sustain a living then that’s what I have to do.”

“The fact of the matter is that teachers have student loans, bills and families,” said a teacher who identified herself as Aimi. “I cannot count the number of times we have lamented the 20th of the month because we get paid on the 25th and no one has gas money. We borrow from our elementary aged children’s birthday stash to fill our gas tanks. We joke that pasta and butter are the staple in the house, but there is a cruel seriousness to it. We cancel doctor appointments because we can’t afford the co-pays. And this is NOT just the lament of new teacher on an unjustified pay scale. We are veteran teachers.”

To read more about why some North Carolina teachers are quitting, visit ResignNC.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that any hope for meaningful across-the-board pay raises for North Carolina teachers is withering on the political vine like a strawberry patch nipped by a mid-April freeze. Two new editorials spell this out.

As the Charlotte Observer explains in “A troubling sign for teacher pay,” it’s clear that a new task force on the issue that had gotten off to a promising start will now fail to deliver what’s really needed. As the editorial noted about the latest task force report :

“It’s a clear sign that despite assurances from Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican leaders that N.C. teachers should be paid more, most of them will be neglected again this year. Read More