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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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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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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.

North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced an initiative yesterday to address how mental health and substance abuse is handled across the state, and how best to avoid using emergency rooms and jail cells as regular treatment options.

“We will ask this coalition to assess our existing structure in the state and recommend possible policy changes to help break down the barriers to care for our patients,” Wos said, according to the Associated Press.

But it appears the state agency already assembled a coalition and launched a similar effort two years ago, when DHHS released a comprehensive action plan to lessen behavioral health stays in local emergency rooms.

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