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We first reported Thursday on U.S. Department of Agriculture’s warning that it may yank or suspend some of the funding North Carolina receives to distribute food stamps.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

The agency wrote a previously-undisclosed letter (click here) in December to Health and Human Services Secretary Wos in December telling her the continual delay of food stamps was “unacceptable” and a “serious failure.” The federal agency has “grave concern for the low income people of North Carolina.”

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Ricky Diaz, the young former McCrory campaign staffer, is leaving his position as head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ communications director.

Source: DHHS employee newsletter

Source: DHHS employee newsletter

Diaz received a $22,500 raise when he went to work for the state agency after leaving the governor’s press office and the 24-year-old’s $85,000 salary (which was first reported by N.C .Policy Watch) and questions about his qualifications became a frequent topic of criticism lodged at the McCrory administration.

The agency has been in the media spotlight frequently this year with the botched launches of two public benefits systems, NC TRACKS and NC FAST, which led to major delays in payment for Medicaid services and prevented many from receiving their federally-funded food stamps.

He is leaving to work for a private Washington, D.C.-based political consultanting firm FP1, and a press release from the agency says he will join the small firm as a vice-president in February.

“FP1 has assembled a strong team of some of the most talented and accomplished operatives in politics, and I am excited to join such a distinguished firm,” Diaz is quoted as saying in the FP1 press release.  “I look forward to working with the team to help develop winning ad campaigns for FP1?s clients.”

His resignation comes as DHHS deals with another public relations mishap, after nearly 50,000 Medicaid cards with the private medical information of children were sent to the wrong households.

Gov. Pat McCrory on his election night. Ricky Diaz is to the right of McCrory's shoulder, and Matthew McKillip in on the far right of the photo. Source: N.C. State Archives, Flickr photo stream

Gov. Pat McCrory on his election night. Ricky Diaz is to the right of McCrory’s shoulder, and Matthew McKillip in on the far right of the photo.
Source: N.C. State Archives, Flickr photo stream

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

The News & Observer’s Joseph Neff had this story over the weekend about several of the high-dollar personal contracts being awarded to administrators in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency failed to produce justification memorandums for several contracts given to top administrators in DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos’ agency despite an agency requirement to do so.

From the story:

In most major departments in state government, officials must explain in writing when they want to hire an individual with a contract for services.

But at the Department of Health and Human Services, where Secretary Aldona Wos has awarded at least seven such deals, those rules are not being followed in most cases.

Wos, an appointee of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, has awarded a number of high-dollar contracts, including one worth $312,000 a year to former State Auditor Les Merritt and another worth $310,000 to a vice president from the company owned by Wos’ husband. But in both of those cases, and in at least four others, the department says it can’t locate any memos written to justify the contracts.

Department policy requires a justification memo for sole-source and personal-services contracts. Under state law, the documents would be public records.

“No justification memorandum was located by agency personnel,” DHHS attorney Kevin Howell wrote in response to a public records request.

Read the entire story here.

In some ways, you have to hand it to the McCrory administration for the way it has manipulated messages and public opinion on the state’s health insurance system for poor people, Medicaid.

The McCrory team came into office with a cynical and ideologically-based plan to sell off what has been a successful public program to private corporations. The key to making such a plan politically feasible, therefore, was to convince the news media and the public that the program was somehow “broken.” How better to do this than to repeatedly allege and attempt to show that the program had supposedly massive cost overruns?

And so the P.R. campaign began. Following up on the decision of the conservative General Assembly to demand unreasonable program savings and then complain about “runaway expenses” when the absurd targets weren’t met, the administration helped generate new “audit” numbers that supposedly showed a similar trend — all, of course, the fault of past Democratic governors.

For months the plan worked well as right-wing politicians and think tanks and numerous reporters dutifully repeated the “Medicaid is broken” mantra despite ample evidence to the contrary. The dishonest rap had the added bonus of helping to justify the decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It even provided a convenient excuse for dozens of other draconian budget cut to education and other essential services.

Now, however, the truth is starting to come out and the P.R. plan is faltering. Read More

Mental health workersMembers of UE local 150, the NC Public Service Workers Union, will be holding a demonstration this morning at 10:00 am at NC DHHS headquarters on the old Dorothea Dix Hospital campus at 101 Blair Drive, Raleigh. Workers are demanding that Sec. Aldona Wos meet with the union, extend Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and also grant workers “Safety, Rights and Raises”, which has become the slogan of their current campaign. Senator Don Davis along with Rev. Curtis Gatewood from the N.C. NAACP and Moral Monday movement plan to speak at the rally. UE 150 is inviting the public and all supporters to attend.

Organizer Dante Strobino explains the genesis of the event and some of the indignities visited upon state mental health workers in the following essay.

State mental health workers launch campaign for Safety, Rights and Raises
By Dante Strobino

Jessica Brandon, a mother of three whose 40-year-old husband has had four heart attacks, is the sole wage earner in her family. For the past 5 ½ years she has worked as a healthcare technician at Central Regional Hospital in Butner, North Carolina, one of three state psychiatric hospitals. After paying essential bills for the family, Brandon said, she typically has less than $40 left for the month. Read More