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Guilford backlog jeopardizes NC meeting food stamp deadline

Posted March 26

— Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos told lawmakers Wednesday that the state was on track to meet an upcoming deadline of clearing its backlog of food stamp applications until learning that Guilford County had a number of cases that hadn't even been entered into the state's computer system.

The food aid program has been mired in deep backlogs since the state launched its new benefits program, NC FAST, last July. The delays, some months long, violated federal rules regarding the timely administration of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

After a series of warnings to DHHS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally threatened on Jan. 23 to withhold $88 million in administrative funding for the state's food stamp program if the problems with NC FAST were not resolved.

The first deadline, Feb. 10, required the resolution of the longest-delayed cases. County agencies managed to meet that deadline, but only by working nights and weekends, hiring temporary staff and diverting staff from other program areas.

For the second deadline, coming up next Monday, the USDA has required DHHS to resolve all backlogged cases and to have corrected the problems causing the backlogs so that all cases are being processed within the federally required time frame.

Wos told the Joint Legislative DHHS Oversight panel that only 520 cases remained in the queue statewide as of Tuesday, and officials were confident that the state could meet the March 31 deadline. Then, Guilford County officials notified DHHS early Wednesday of an additional backlog.

"We rely on the counties to be able to provide accurate information to the state," Wos said.

The extra Guilford County cases aren't a result of NC FAST issues, she said, noting the stack of cases – she didn't know how many – haven't been entered into the system.

A team of DHHS officials have been dispatched to Greensboro to assess the situation, she said.

"Guilford has been one of the counties that has challenges," she said.

A state assessment last summer of the Guilford County social services office found staffing and training problems, as well as an existing backlog in food stamp cases.

Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, questioned the effectiveness of the training DHHS has provided to county workers statewide on NC FAST.

"Something's gone wrong somewhere," Brisson said.

Wos responded that the state trains workers to meet each county's specific needs, and other agency officials said the NC FAST help desk is being retooled to assist with problems.

The food stamp caseload in some counties "has doubled, but workforce has not increased proportionally to the need," Wos said, providing another reason for the continued backlog.

NC FAST "has worked very well in the state," she said, adding that progress on clearing the backlog "shows that it works and it works very well."

8 Comments

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  • sneeziegal Mar 27, 2:57 p.m.

    I love how all these problems falls to one person. Seriously, how many DSS offices are there? ... View More

    — Posted by nanab

    NANAB, that's what's called BEING IN CHARGE!! She signed on for this, remember? Being in charge and taking responsibility for problems happens every day across the world. Someone has to answer for it no matter what the company or business. And its normally the person at the top. And after they take the heat this is when "it" starts rolling down hill to the minions.

  • downtowner Mar 27, 12:14 p.m.

    You gotta wonder how much more heat Wos can take before she resigns. She certainly has a lot of fortitude to try and keep her position while everyone knows she is unqualified and is a failure that needs to step aside. I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would be possessed to continue on in the face of utter dismal failure as she has. Here's to hoping she cracks soon, for the sake of NC.

  • sunnyside Mar 27, 9:28 a.m.

    Sherry Clark is right - the system is a mess. Guilford County was one of three pilot counties that started using NCFAST in June 2012 - nearly two years ago. They know the system by now, despite the countless changes, "fixes," "workarounds" for things that don't work like they should, etc. NCFAST is a ridiculously complicated system that is very time consuming to navigate. DHHS will continue have to justify this program as long as it fails to address the core issues it has. They have been trying to add Medicaid processing to it since LAST JULY and still haven't been able to get it to work. The date of implementation in this article is wrong - last July was when they "upgraded" the system to try to add Medicaid. Food Stamps has been online in all 100 counties since March 2013. Wos didn't start this mess, but she is certainly not helping by ignoring the trainwreck it has become.

  • 42 Mar 27, 9:18 a.m.

    I think it's the GOP administration's incompetence that is the cause.

  • ncflynhi2 Mar 27, 9:13 a.m.

    Wos needs to go...she continues to lie and fails to put the responsibility where it lies and that is the computer systems THAT ARE NOT WORKING!!! Workers are working overtime to save this states A_S with the federal government and are continuing to be ostracized and criticized for what they are doing. Workers in Wake County have worked mandatory overtime for so long now. Working this month 7 days a week 2 weeks and the other 2 weeks working at least 2-3 hours a day overtime early mornings or into the evening. Missing out on spending time with families, getting physically and mentally exhausted. Worker's are going out on medical leave, being restricted by docs on hours that can be worked...this is only going to get worse...we are being told it will be 3-4 years before all of the computer glitches are worked out! Wos makes me SICK with her condescending attitude!

  • scubagirl2 Mar 27, 8:41 a.m.

    "I am tired of Ms. Wos blaming the workers and pretending that this system works"

    Yet ANOTHER reason this woman needs to lose her job

  • sherryclark Mar 26, 10:31 p.m.

    Guilford County is not the only county that has challenges. Every county in NC that is on the NCFast system has challenges. The system does not work right. There are people needing food, medication and surgery and their application is "hung up" in the system. There is nothing we, the workers can do but put in a help ticket, meanwhile people are not getting their benefits and workers are getting calls from clients, doctors, and pharmacies. It is not the workers fault, it is the system. It does not work. I am tired of Ms. Wos blaming the workers and pretending that this system works. Go to any DSS and sit down with a worker and watch them put in an application and see for yourself how long it takes and all the problems that occur while trying to put it in the system.

  • bjrenegar Mar 26, 7:00 p.m.

    While the back log is getting PR, what about the applications being filled out each day. I just tried to apply online for FNS. The website is not working. It would be curious to know where & who the person is who answers email sent to the NC Fast webmaster.