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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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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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The backlog of North Carolina’s food stamps applications is continuing to go down, as county and state health and human services workers put in overtime to meet a Monday deadline set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Revised numbers released Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services  how that there are still more than 4,000 applications pending statewide, including more than 800 that have pending for more than three months.

Click here and here to see DHHS’ county breakdowns of the existing backlog.

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DHHSAs Chris Fitzsimon points out in this morning’s “Monday Numbers” edition of the Fitzsimon File, the flubs just keep on coming at Aldona Wos’ Department of Health and Human Services:

4—number of days since the federal government sent a letter to state DHHS officials saying North Carolina would lose federal funding for operations of the state food stamp program if problems and case backlogs were not addressed in two weeks (“Federal money for food stamp management could be suspended in March, News & Observer January 24, 2014)

30—number of days that food stamp applications must be processed under federal law (Ibid)

20,243—number of food stamp claims in North Carolina that have been waiting more than 30 days as of January 24 (“USDA issues more warnings to state health agency, WRAL-TV, January 24, 2014)

11,493—number of food stamp claims that have been pending more than 60 days as of January 24 (Ibid)

8,002—number of food stamp claims that have been pending more than 90 days as of January 24 (Ibid)

5,934—number of food stamp claims that have been pending more than 120 days as of January 24 (Ibid)

8,963—number of cases in which deadline was missed that are hardship cases, where families have very little income (“Federal money for food stamp management could be suspended in March, News & Observer January 24, 2014)

Read the letter from the feds by clicking here . Read the entire column by clicking here.