Raleigh, N.C. — The state's health agency says it will wait one more day to release information on whether it met Monday's federal deadline for clearing the majority of its backlogged food stamp cases.
For more than a week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has provided daily updates about the status of the rapidly eroding mountain of delayed cases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture warned that failure to eliminate longstanding and emergency cases by Feb. 10 could cost the state $88 million in federal administrative funding.
Data released over the weekend showed that, with only a few hundred cases left, the state appeared poised to make the deadline.
But on Monday afternoon, DHHS spokeswoman Kirsti Clifford said state officials wouldn't release updated data or the department's response to the USDA until a legislative oversight meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning.
"State and county staff and leadership have put tremendous effort into meeting the federal government’s deadline to process applications and recertifications pending over 90 days and expedited applications older than seven days," Clifford said. "Today, the DHHS staff is reaching out to county social services agencies to confirm final numbers and circumstances surrounding any cases that may remain outstanding."
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Correspondence between N.C. DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and the U.S. Department of Agriculture between Sept. 4 and Jan. 23 detail areas that required "urgent attention from the state."
Data originating from the state and provided by Wake County officials showed workers there had cleared the USDA-mandated portion of the backlog except for one case, which according to Wake County Assistant Human Services Director Liz Scott "had a policy reason that we could not complete."
Scott said the remainder of the delayed cases, which are due for completion by March 31, stands at 522.
"We processed 3,000 applications over the last two weeks and are extremely proud of our staff and the tremendous effort they made to meet the deadline," she said in an email. "We are going to work just as hard to get the cases above completed in advance of the next deadline."
Since September, the USDA has noted several problems with the roll-out of the state's new NC FAST system, designed to streamline the delivery of social services, such as food stamps and Medicaid. Among those issues was a backlog that, by the federal agency's best estimate, hit 70,000 over the summer, when a technical glitch slowed down processing.
Based on mid-November data from DHHS that put the backlog at about 26,000 cases, the USDA issued advance warning in December that it could withdraw administrative funding if the state didn't bring its program into compliance with federal rules.
More than a month later, after figures showed the backlog got even worse, the federal agency issued an ultimatum: Show significant progress toward fixing the problem by Feb. 10, or risk losing funding in mid-March.
In the ensuing weeks, state and county workers have focused on clearing the cases mandated by the USDA, reducing the backlog by more than 15,000 since Dec. 31.
As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, a USDA spokesperson said the agency was still awaiting a response from DHHS officials.