Food stamp backlog rises one week after USDA deadline
Posted February 17
Updated February 18
Raleigh, N.C. — The number of backlogged food stamp cases ticked up slightly in the week since a federal deadline to clear the majority of delayed cases.
New data from the state released Monday evening show the total food stamp backlog now stands at 1,678. That’s up about 34 percent since N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos told lawmakers that workers met a U.S. Department of Agriculture deadline to clear longstanding and emergency cases by Feb. 10.
DHHS spokesperson Julie Henry said in a phone interview Tuesday that the size of the backlog is constantly in flux as new applications and recertifications for food stamps are entered into NC FAST, the system launched last year to streamline the delivery of social services.
"As we have said repeatedly, the numbers that are reflected in daily reports are a snapshot in time," Henry said. "They can change from one day to the next."
The higher number is far removed from a high point on Dec. 31, when the state's data showed nearly 36,000 food stamp cases remained behind schedule – some for four months or more.
Henry said workers are still focused on meeting the USDA's second deadline on March 31, when the federal agency requires the state to clear the backlog completely and fix other problems according to the state's corrective action plan.
"I think the secretary was very clear at the [legislative oversight committee] when she said we can't let up," Henry said. "We're supporting counties however we can."
As the USDA noted in its latest response to DHHS last week, missing that deadline could cost the state about $88 million in federal administrative food stamp funding.
"I'm not sure we're worried about that, because I think we've demonstrated we're willing to do what need to do to get those applications processed," Henry said. "All eyes are on March 31."
Wake County claims the largest share of the backlog with 679 cases.
Officials from the Wake County Division of Social Services have not responded to requests for comment.