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New USDA Letter Shows Food Stamp Program Federal Funds in Jeopardy


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By Rose Hoban

Federal officials are one step closer to withdrawing funding for North Carolina’s problem-plagued Food Stamp program in the latest round of the months-long exchange between the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the Food Stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In a letter sent Thursday by Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regional administrator Robin Bailey, FNS officials are giving the state until Feb. 10 to reach “significant outputs toward total resolution of the backlog” of more than 23,000 households waiting for food stamps or lose federal administrative funds for the program.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP ) logo

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP ) logo

The delays have been a result of problems in the rollout of the NC FAST computer system, which was intended to expedite low-income families’ registration for state and federal benefits.

But since the summer, there have been significant delays in food stamp applications for thousands of North Carolina families because of glitches in the system and late updates to make the system compatible with Medicaid applications and Affordable Care Act requirements.

In statements to legislators, DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos has attributed some of the delay in processing applications to late changes handed down by the federal government during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

“It should be noted that many other States have implemented ACA without the dramatic impacts on [the food stamp program] that have occurred in North Carolina,” Bailey noted in her letter.

As of Jan. 23, there were 19,974 pending applications for food stamps in the state. Of those, 11,011 applications had been waiting 30 days and 4,292 applications had been in process for more than four months, according to documents released by DHHS on Friday.

DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said the numbers are not entirely reflective of the reality on the ground.

She explained that as the system rolled out late last summer and into the fall, county caseworkers had trouble completing applications and, in some cases, created duplicate applications in order to get food stamp recipients their benefits.

Henry said that in the past month, NC FAST workers have found thousands of such duplicate applications and purged them from the system.

“We have already culled almost 10,000 cases form the system that were duplicates, and we believe there are many more, especially the more long-standing applications,” she said. “Conversely, there may be cases in counties that haven’t been entered yet, applications that are still sitting on caseworkers’ desks.”

In a press release issued by DHHS late Friday afternoon, Sherry Bradsher, deputy secretary for human services, expressed disappointment at “the federal government’s threat to withhold Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administrative funds, which could adversely impact counties’ abilities to assist families in need.”

Those funds get passed on to counties to help them pay for administering the program.

Henry said DHHS leaders met with county social service directors Friday afternoon to brainstorm on how to meet the more aggressive timeline.

“We do have a plan. We were already working on a plan of correction, and these are more aggressive dates presented in this letter,” Henry said. “So it will require a more concerted effort on the part of the state and counties.”

In a letter sent to county directors of social services on Friday by Wayne Black, head of the DHHS Division of Social Services urged an “all hands on deck” call, “as we would do in the case of an emergency, including working overtime, assigning staff from other areas to assist with this very important work.”

“[The Food and Nutrition Service] is alarmed by the persistent problems despite our extensive technical assistance and repeated communications concerning the severity of the situation,” the letter read.

 

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8 Comments

  1. KJJan 27, 2014 at 10:09 am

    The excuse being used by the State Administrator is a huge joke. That fact backed up by the reality that NC refused the implementation & expansion of the Federal Medicaid Program. There simply is no excuse for the backlog & the suffering of families & individuals waiting for MONTHS to get Food Assistance. This is a very inept & sad travesty of a worthless system, State Agency & negligent staff. What’s compounding the severity of it, is the extremely nasty attitudes of the Social Services Staffs, that are either refusing to return calls from the needy applicants, being hateful to them & somehow finding the time to send them nasty letters telling them to go & seek assistance from local Food Pantries, which are broke, empty & over-burdened by THEIR lack of competency.

    • a dss workerJan 29, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      I wish all those who complain about the front line staff at DSS knew what a caseworker goes through every day. We don’t avoid returning calls on purpose. Sometimes it’s a choice between trying to process a case or return a call; think of it this way most workers have over 300 cases to process for recertification a month. If the system isn’t working properly which often it isn’t and it takes upwards of 1.5 to 2 hours to process 1 recertification how are we supposed to work our cases and return our calls. Many counties have taken a very proactive approach to processing cases in as timely manner as possible, working overtime, cross training staff, etc. but when the state goes in a makes a tweak to the system which causes the system to not work what is a worker supposed to do. Often we “the front line staff” are emotional wrecks because we work out fingers to the bones and we still can’t feed out families in a timely manner. Trust me when know the impact it has on our clients; we can tell you the stories of what our clients go through. Even worse we process a case today, it looks great and then we check it tomorrow and realize it hasn’t issued benefits. Often we have to submit a helpdesk ticket to the state for them to try and fix it and it can be 45 days or more before we get a response from the state. Don’t blame the workers blame the system and those who choose to purchase the system. Knowing how many problems were happening when just food stamps was in the system why would have the state choose to move forward in adding Medicaid. Now we hungry family and families who aren’t getting medical attention talk about adding fuel to the fire. From this front line workers point of view, I work hard, I advocate for my clients and do the best I can do and so does my entire county but I can’t say as much for the state. They have FAILED the families of North Carolina.

      • KJJan 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm

        Guess what, HUNGURY PEOPLE DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS ! The fact that PEOPLE don’t get replies at all or for MONTHS & the fact that they are the suffering, doesn’t make them feel any better when someone ignores them, treats them like trash & they’re STILL waiting for MONTHS to get the assistance to feed themselves & their children. IF ya got problems doing your job, complain to Raleigh & Washington. NOT THE PUBLIC !

        • sunshineApr 3, 2014 at 8:23 am

          Amen!!! I have been waiting since February and every time I call i get voicemails, then after leaving a message i get told “we dont check our vm” well turn it off then! Richmond county nc tells me its raleighs fault, and raleigh says richmond coubty isnt doing their job right…i am beyond pissed! Both me and my husband lost our jobs due to company closing we have 3 kids and a baby on the way, so no i dont give a shit about the stress of your job, if its to much to handle, pick a new career!

  2. Ehhhh...What's up Doc?Jan 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    $750 MILLION per year in Food Stamp fraud.

    $1.5 BILLION per year in School Lunch Program overpayments (fraud).

    The USDA needs to get its house in order first, then blame the states.

    • KJJan 31, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      And the States need to get off their asses, hire MORE competent employees & some that actually know what a Work Ethic is….

  3. tv22Jan 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    These problems aren’t related to the expansion of Medicaid, it is related to the system that has not been able to work properly. The vendor for that system, hired by the previous administration, is the same one that the feds have called in to “fix” the ACA exchange.

    • KJJan 31, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      FYI, this problem is NOT new. It has been ongoing for a couple of YEARS. There ARE so many Case Workers that just don’t care, aren’t extremely bright, move like molasses & are nasty & hateful to the people they’re supposedly serving. Are they over worked ? Sure. But, EVERYONE THAT HAS A JOB IS…. They should be damned grateful they aren’t the one unemployed, hungry & standing on the OTHER side of that counter, asking where & how they’re gonna feed their families.

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