N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced at a legislative hearing this morning that her department met a federal deadline yesterday to clear a backlog of families waiting for emergency food assistance.

Wos told lawmakers that “Herculean efforts” were used by county-based and state workers to address more than 23,000 households that, in late January, had been waiting weeks or months for federally-funded food stamps.

DHHS used 290 state state, hired temporary workers, made home visits and used volunteer time offered by a handful of legislative assistants to meet the deadline, she said.

She said there were only 25 cases remaining of the thousands the U.S. Department of Agriculture called to be eliminated. The federal agency threatened withholding $80 million in funding in December and January if North Carolina didn’t quickly address the issue.

The logjam of cases first began popping up last spring as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services implemented pieces of a complex benefits delivery system called NC FAST that county-level workers had difficulty maneuvering or even getting to work in some case.

“I can assure you that DHHS will continue to work as aggressively as we have,” Wos said.

While both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they were pleased the vast majority of the backlog had been handled, some expressed concern about how long it took the state agency to ensure needy families were getting food.

“I’m very gratified that we finally have this backlog behind us,” said state Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. “The thing that disappoints me that is that it took seven months to address the backlog and we had several thousand people harmed in the process.”

Updated caseload numbers are available here and here. The USDA deadline for the agency was to clear a backlog of cases of the most hard-pressed families, many of them  in emergency situations.

The agency will need to clear the entire backlog or food stamp applications and recertifications by March 31, currently at 14,333 recertifications and 754 applications, according to DHHS documents. (13,821 of the recertifications are only one to 14 days behind, and are considered “timely” by DHHS and USDA)

Below is the letter that Wos sent to USDA officials yesterday.

USDA February 10 2014 by NC Policy Watch



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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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque  has apparently fired Joe Cheshire, the Raleigh attorney that represented him during a trial last year that ended in convictions for the former lawmaker.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from the legislature after his federal indictment, was convicted in June of stealing funds from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran. He asked for a new trial after a juror admitted doing outside research during verdict deliberations. Read More


There’s another delay in the federal criminal case of former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, with a hearing for a new trial pushed back to Sept. 24.

LaRoque, who was convicted by a jury in June of stealing from federally-funded non-profits he ran, wants a new trial after a juror said he voted to convict the former lawmaker in a trial this spring only after doing independent research on tax laws. Jurors are barred from considering evidence or testimony outside of what was presented in court.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican and onetime member of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team, is facing a likely prison sentence and was initially scheduled to be sentenced Thursday on 10 of the 12 federal charges. Two of the other charges had been previously set aside by a federal judge because of the juror misconduct.

The new hearing will be at 10 a.m. on Sept. 24 at the federal courthouse in Greenville, in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard, who has presided over the case.

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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque’s sentencing date has been delayed while his attorney renews concerns that juror misconduct in the case prevented the former state lawmaker from receiving a fair trial.

In a federal criminal case that’s been far from typical, the hearing next week in Greenville on a motion for a new trial could offer turn into an eleventh hour  reprieve for LaRoque, a Kinston Republican and onetime member of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team.



Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard, who presided over LaRoque’s jury trial this spring, issued an order Monday that LaRoque’s Sept. 12 sentencing be delayed and a hearing for a new trial be held in its place.

LaRoque faced likely prison time for his June conviction on 10 criminal charges related to the theft of $300,000 from two federally-funded economic development non-profits he ran as part of a rural lending program to help struggling businesses.

The former lawmaker maintained his innocence throughout his three-week jury trial this spring, and claimed that the money was not stolen but deferred compensation owed to him through generous contracts he had with the small non-profits. As prosecutors pointed out during the trial, the board of directors of the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company consisted solely of LaRoques in recent years – Stephen LaRoque, his wife and brother.

Guilty verdicts on two additional tax fraud charges had already been set aside by Howard after a juror’s admission about looking up the IRS tax rules for individual-owned businesses, a violation of the explicit instructions given to jurors to only consider evidence presented in the courtroom.

LaRoque’s attorney, Joe Cheshire, filed a motion late last week indicating that the juror’s home research affected the entire case, and not just the tax fraud charges.

“If it were not for me conducting this home internet research, the juror would have remained hung on all counts indefinitely,” the juror wrote in an affidavit Cheshire included with his motion.

Also from Cheshire’s motion: Read More