RALEIGH, N.C. — With a federal deadline only five days away, county and state social services staff have worked overtime to reduce the majority of their massive backlog of food stamps cases.
The number of pending cases grew for weeks across the state, even after the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatened that it could suspend $88 million in administrative funding for the food stamps program if problems weren't corrected.
The logjam hit a high mark in late December, with almost 35,000 total cases. But after a substantial drop state officials largely attributed to duplicate cases stuck in its new NC FAST enrollment system, the number of cases plateaued.
On Jan. 23, however, the USDA issued an ultimatum: If the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services didn't clear the majority of its backlog by Feb. 10, the federal agency could pull funding as soon as March 12.
To demonstrate what the USDA called "significant" progress, the state must eliminate emergency applications as well as applications and recertifications that have been pending for 90 days or more.
Days after the federal agency's edict, DHHS began setting up 11 "processing centers" across the state to help county workers process cases.