As holidays loom, hundreds still wait for food stamps

Posted November 27, 2013

— It's just days before Thanksgiving and Bianca Williams' cupboard is pretty bare.

A jar of peanut butter, canned goods and a few packages of pasta occupied the lower shelves of her kitchen cabinet Tuesday, almost two months after she was recertified for food stamps through the state's new NC FAST system. But since September, Williams has been waiting for those benefits to pay out.

Earlier this year, after NC FAST hard-launched in Wake County, that process took Williams and her two children more than four months.

"You're looking left and right, left and right just to get by each night, not knowing if you're going to feed your kids or not," Williams said.

Food stamps State still battling backlog for food stamps

For Williams, relief came in the form of a Thanksgiving dinner donation from the Catholic Parish Outreach food pantry. And after WRAL News contacted Wake County with questions about Williams' case Tuesday, she said social services officials processed her benefits Wednesday morning.

But it may be too late to save Williams’ home. After she lost everything in a fire earlier this year, her family scraped together some cash to help her get an apartment. But while her food stamps have been held up, she’s had to use whatever cash she could find for groceries instead of rent.

“I have 10 days to come up with the money just to stay here, just to get by, just until I find another job, or me and my children will be out in the street,” she said.

Williams says other people she knows are facing the same problem, and data from the Wake County Human Services Division backs that up. In Wake County alone this month, about 500 families already on food stamps have been waiting anywhere from 15 days to three months for their benefits. That's down significantly from the September backlog, which the county said stood at about 4,500 cases.

Wake County Assistant Human Services Director Liz Scott attributes that backlog to a number of factors, like increased demand and some staff turnover. But she says another reason is the learning curve and technical issues involved with the rollout of NC FAST.

"We do have some cases, however, that are hung up in the system, and we are addressing those with the state and trying to get a resolution to each one," Scott said. "Each time we become aware of someone whose benefits have gotten hung up in the system, you know we're working as hard as we can to get those resolved."

Across North Carolina, according to state Social Services Director Wayne Black, counties are significantly reducing large backlogs that mounted after problems with the system in July and August. Black said NC FAST now "is working quite well," and is delivering $200 million in benefits to 800,000 households a month.

To confront challenges with the new system and the increased caseload, which almost doubled from 2008 to 2012, Scott says Wake County hired more temporary workers and has staff working overtime. They've also made improvements to their call center to help people asking about their cases.

But Scott acknowledged the high call volume has made it difficult for people to speak to their case managers – an issue Williams ran into during her regular calls to social services. 

"This voicemail is full. You transfer us to their supervisor, that voicemail is full," Williams said.

While Wake County processes its backlog, they've worked with food pantries and the United Way of the Greater Triangle to distribute $35,000 in food support to families facing delays. They're also urging Wake County customers whose benefits are late by 60 days or more to call (919)212-7302 for help.

And although she says the process so far has "been bumpy," Scott said she's hopeful things will get better.

"We're seeing some improvement and we're hopeful that that will continue, because we're very upset when we're not caught up with getting people their benefits on time," Scott said. "That's our goal – is to get people their benefits on time."


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • notexactly Dec 3, 2013


    no it is not. corp welfare, ( whatever that is) It is people able to work just choosing not to work harder or smarter. People out of work I am all for helping. I lived on min. wage for years dude, with no help at all. I was bored, ate beans and rice and that's about it. But during that time I was doing something to better my situation, and in time moved up to own my business and make really good money, Then sold it and now work for a municipality. I don't make the money I use to but do still make a somewhat good income. People can do it if they want to. They make poor choices and put themselves in harder times. Like the woman on the system with two kids and then has a third or fourth. Why is that or should that be the responsible peoples problem to pay for. That is the problem right there. It is to easy to get on the system and if you don't think that is true, then you live in a cave somewhere.

  • Rebelyell55 Dec 3, 2013

    Still see a lot of comments about telling people to get a job while they wait. Most of these folks have job. Just don't pay enough so they're illigble for help. It's part of the Corp. welfare that the tax payers are supporting but many only see it as Social Welfare.

  • cpdtg Dec 2, 2013

    Lot`s of people are hiring this time of year why not work while you wait

  • warrcorick Dec 2, 2013


    We all know that there are just as many Queens from england as there are from Africa, so why do we always have a black face when the story is about welfare? How about a few facts when reporting.

  • nerdlywehunt Dec 2, 2013

    Don't pass all of the help wanted signs on the way.........

  • GK N.Ral Dec 2, 2013

    While your waiting, get a job or 2 or 3. Do you have an education, any skills, if not get some.

  • hihuwatlu Dec 1, 2013

    What's really stupid is when they finally pay provide the foodstamps money they make it retroactive. So there are people getting 3 or 4 months worth of foodstamps at one time. I know a family of 3 who got $1600 deposited onto their card. Like they can just eat enough this month to make up for the last three.

  • ConservativeVoter Nov 27, 2013

    "It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Most of our right wing commenters here don't have a clue about WHY we call it "Thanksgiving". They're too worried about what everyone else might be getting to understand the significance of the holiday and how today, we've got people in the same situation due only to economic policies put in place 35 or 40 years ago that are an abject failure and now have created an underclass of poor working people or unemployed. But they are more than willing to give Wallton and McD's billions a year in their tax monies to pay for all the "entitlements" their employees have to have just to survive. We're subsidizing the employees of America's worst paying companies and that's perfectly fine with our right wing folk here. But that's typical. Because it's the way corporate America works and they've bought into it hook, line and sinker.

    Johnson who was a Democrat President implemented the current welfare state during the 1960's .

  • ConservativeVoter Nov 27, 2013

    Seeing that the government can't properly manage the food stamp program, how well do you think government is going to do managing the health care industry under Obamacare.

  • ConservativeVoter Nov 27, 2013

    Minimum wage isn't based in economics, it's a feel good idea promoted by Democrats to buy votes from the poor.