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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that North Carolina health officials successfully cleared a backlog of food stamps cases that had been in the tens of thousands last year following issues with a statewide technology system.

At stake was $88 million in federal funding, which USDA, which oversees the national SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), said it would consider rescinding if the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services didn’t quickly clear the backlog.

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Photo credit: Think Progress

Photo credit: www.thinkprogress.org

As Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska has been reporting regularly of late, obtaining Food Stamps and the failure of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services to process applications in a timely manner remain big problems for lots of needy people.

One way to solve this problem, of course, would be for the McCrory/Wos administration to start doing its job and get claims processed properly. Another solution, however, that might have an even greater and more beneficial impact would be to raise incomes of people currently reduced to relying on Food Stamps — people like the workers at Wal-Mart.

Click here to read an amazing story and watch a compelling two-minute video about how the giant retailer (and the place where more Food Stamps are spent than anywhere else) could lift thousands of people out of poverty and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year just by paying workers a decent wage. And the impact on Wal-Mart prices of such a shift? Just over 1%!

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Michelle Ford hasn’t received food stamp allotments since December, and the Greensboro mother says she’s out of options in trying to feed herself and her three children.

“We don’t have anything to eat,” Ford said. “This the way it’s been for the last two months, it seems like it’s just getting worse and worse.”

Ford usually receives $692 in food stamps a month to keep her family fed, but her January benefits never appeared. She said she’s neglected paying her light bill, car payment and other bills in order to keep her family fed.

“It’s been horrible,” she said, her voice clenched with tears. Her 18-year-old daughter stays with friends in order to get meals at night and was fired from a job at a McDonald’s stemming over a dispute about food she was taking to share with her family.

Ford’s problems come despite the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services declaring it has “reasonably achieved” an April 1 deadline set by federal officials to resolve a backlog of federally-funded food stamps cases statewide that had been in the tens of thousands for needy families.

A backlog of food stamps cases persisted for most of 2013 in the state when DHHS fully implemented a complicated benefits delivery system called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services Through Technology). County-level workers struggled to get the system to work, and cases piled up with some going weeks or months without needed food assistance. ncfast

In Guilford County, where Ford lives, the state discovered in the week before the April 1 deadline that workers had been keeping as many as 8,1000 recertification cases in a separate system then the N.C. FAST benefits delivery system. The head of the county’s social services director resigned shortly after the backlog became public.

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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

 

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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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