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N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos told lawmakers today that her agency may face problems clearing the last 2,000 cases of a massive backlog in emergency food assistance cases in time for a federal deadline.

“It will be extremely difficult and the stakes are very high,” Wos said in a legislative health oversight committee Wednesday. “There are no easy solutions are we move forward.”

Wos told lawmakers that 1,975 cases remained in the food stamps backlog.

A March 31 deadline was set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in response to a massive backlog that rose in December to more than 20,000 households waiting weeks to months for emergency food assistance.  The backlog stemmed from a steady increase in recent years for assistance and county-level social service workers encountering glitches and other problems with benefits-delivery system called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology).

Though Wos told lawmakers today, as she had in last month’s oversight hearing, that things were improving, there are still those going without. Because of privacy laws surrounding government assistance like food stamps, it’s unclear if  scenarios like those of Maria Best, a Greensboro woman who has been waiting since December for food stamps,  are being reflected in DHHS caseload data.

We first spoke with Best, a 72-year-old and recent breast cancer survivor  living on a limited income, for a Feb. 12 article about the food stamps delays.Reached today, Best said she has yet to get any assistance, and has been waiting for more than three months for help. The last time she received food stamps was in November.

“It’s getting really tough,” she said, adding that she’s had to limit putting gas in her car and has been living off odds and ends in her pantry and freezer.

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Ricky DiazRaleigh’s News & Observer features an on-the-money essay this morning by Fayetteville Observer editorial page editor Tim White on the departure of state DHHS spokesperson Ricky Diaz (pictured at left in a photo from a DHHS newsletter). The central message: Let’s hope Pat McCrory and his team learned something from Diaz’ short but tumultuous stay. Here’s White:

“McCrory has repeatedly insisted Diaz was worth every penny, that he’s one of the smartest, most capable people the governor has ever come across and that he was completely qualified for the job.

The kindest spin is that the governor is remarkably naive. A young man at 24, no matter how brilliant, still doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Read More

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The Winston-Salem Journal hits the nail on the head this morning:

“When efficient organizations make a mistake, they fix it.

When dysfunctional organizations like the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services make repeated mistakes, they assign more public- relations people.”

The editorial then goes on to detail some of the troubled agency’s myriad problems under embattled Secretary Aldona Wos — with computer systems, bizarre decisions during the federal shutdown, personnel issues, less-than-candid responses to lawmakers and the state Auditor and its misguided Medicaid privatization efforts.
It concludes this way:

“Rather than fix her controversies-of-the-month, Wos is putting more public relations people in place, Read More

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Aldona WosIs anyone else out there starting to get the impression that North Carolina DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos is bit of a…a…how shall I put this?

A control freak?

First, it was the ill-fated dress code edict. Then it was the rather remarkable comment about the “danger” of government transparency.

And now it’s… Signature-gate!

As of next Monday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Servces will apparently have a new, official three-page policy specifying how Department employees will sign their names on emails.

As you can see by clicking here, we are not making this up.

According to the document obtained by NC Policy Watch, as of April 22, DHHS employees must comply with the “DHHS Email Signature policy.” Read More