Raleigh, N.C. — Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday that they are satisfied with North Carolina health agency's progress toward reducing a once-massive backlog of food stamp cases.
In a letter to the state Department of Health and Human Services, the USDA noted the state had made "significant strides" toward providing benefits to waiting North Carolina residents. Although the backlog persisted for months, with thousands of families waiting four months or more, state and county workers concentrated their efforts in late January to process the majority of cases in about two weeks.
That was after the USDA, following weeks of warnings, told the state it must largely eliminate the backlog by Feb. 10 or risk losing $88 million in administrative food stamp funding.
"The quick resolution of this backlog will position the State to ensure that effective measures are in place for counties to process all new applications and recertifications in accordance with the Federal timeframes and prevent future backlogs," USDA Regional Administrator Robin Bailey wrote Friday.
Numbers provided by the state Tuesday showed that 1,254 cases remain in the backlog, compared to about 35,000 on Dec. 31. DHHS officials have not released updated numbers.
As DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos told legislators Tuesday, the Feb. 10 deadline is only the first hurdle as it continues to act on a corrective action plan submitted to the USDA. By March 31, state and county workers must clear the remaining delayed cases and implement other changes or again risk losing funding.
"We are pleased by the federal government's response to the outstanding work performed by state and county social services staff to address this issue," DHHS Deputy Secretary Sherry Bradsher said in a press release Friday afternoon. "We will continue to work with our county partners to satisfy federal processing requirements. It has always been our goal to provide quality services and timely benefits to the families we serve."