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More than 500 cases remain in food stamp backlog

Posted February 7, 2014

— State and county health officials say they are on track to meet a federal deadline to clear out a longstanding backlog of food stamp cases that put millions of dollars of funding at risk.

Data released Friday by the state Department of Health and Human Services show the state needs to resolve 559 more cases to meet its Feb. 10 mandate. That's down about 96 percent from Jan. 23, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the state it could lose $88 million in administrative funding for the food stamp program if it didn't make significant progress toward clearing delayed cases.

"I am extremely proud of the work performed by our state and county workers to meet the federal deadlines," DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos said in a press release Friday. "Our top priority continues to be getting these important benefits to eligible North Carolina families in a timely manner."

Yet, the department's efforts to tackle the delays, which have left thousands of North Carolina families waiting months for nutrition benefits, didn't have much impact until months after the USDA noted concerns in September. In fact, the department's data showed that, weeks after the federal agency issued its initial threat to withdraw funding on Dec. 11, the number of cases rose to 35,500 cases.

The growth in cases prompted the department to acknowledge things were getting worse.

"It's not getting better," DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said at the time. "We recognize it's not improving. That's why we are continuing to work with our county partners to offer some kind of relief so they can get these cases processed."

After identifying and clearing thousands of duplicate cases stuck in its new NC FAST enrollment and management system in early January, the state reduced the number of cases by about 10,000. That returned the backlog to about the same level that caused the USDA so much concern when it examined the state's data on Nov. 18.

But days after the federal ultimatum at the end of January, DHHS began setting up 11 "processing centers" across the state to help county workers process cases.

Since that time, workers have reduced the USDA-required portion of the backlog by focusing exclusively on food stamp cases and working overtime.

"Counties become more efficient; case workers are more proficient," Division of Social Services Director Wayne Black said. "We've used our state staff to work with them in training, and for the last month, I think, we've made tremendous progress."

Asked by WRAL News why it took the department so long to get the backlog under control, Black said they had setbacks from an NC FAST software glitch in July and the addition of a Medicaid component in October, which created more work for case managers.

"I sort of expected this – 'You got it fixed. Why didn't you fix it sooner?'" Black said. "The only thing I could say to that (is), again, we were working hard to fix that all along, since July."

In Wake County, which has carried the largest share of the backlog, the total number of remaining cases as of Friday morning stood at more than 150. County officials say that, by the end of the day, there will be fewer than 60 cases to process before Monday's deadline.

But those final 60 are likely to be the most complicated, according to Wake County spokeswoman Sarah Williamson-Baker. Some have been delayed by technical problems with the NC FAST system, while others can't be processed without additional information from clients.

"We have had staff out making home visits and calling clients to obtain needed information, and we have worked with the state staff on any cases that still needed some resolution in the system," Wake County Assistant Human Services Director Liz Scott said in an email Friday. "It has been a nonstop effort to get this completed."

Cases see sudden fall

Explore the graphic above to see how the food stamp backlog has changed since the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its warning. The bottom portion includes the majority of pending applications and recertifications the USDA wants eliminated by Feb. 10. Data will be updated as updates are received.

9 Comments

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  • Andy Hairston Feb 10, 2014
    user avatar

    I'm with JUSTIC4ALL on the headline. "More than 500" sounds like they haven't been working on it. "35,000 down, 500 to go" would be a better indication of progress.

    Yes, it never should have happened in the first place. But give them credit for how far they've caught up so far.

  • bichonman Feb 10, 2014

    Why is it that an $8million loss hanging over your head could suddenly get everyone off ther rears to get to work? Be glad its gov. work, a lot of you would have lost your jobs if you were anywhere else. Sec. Aldona Wos should be the first to go for allowing this to be in the shape it was in.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Feb 7, 2014

    JUSTIC4ALL - "I'm disappointed in the headline in that it reads as if WRAL is not satisfied with the tremendous gains made. Instead of "More than 500", sounds negative. I would think the story line should be, 'Case Count Down to Over 500', which sounds more positive. But what should I expect from the liberal media?"

    If you were numbered among those 500 needy families, I doubt you'd be all that pleased with the progress of this agency - not made by the way until it was FORCED to by Federal threats.

    This agency should have admitted its problems long before it severely negatively affected over 35,000 families in this state.

    That they could get it fixed once the threats were issued clearly shows they could have done so before, had they just given a darn about the people they're paid to serve.

    Instead, they covered it up, made excuses for it, blamed it on the computer software, etc. etc. etc.

    Shameful!!!

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Feb 7, 2014

    ALEX25 - "Please Stop pushing MORE Govt and the dependency it creates!"

    Do you even understand what you're talking about?

    First of all, as the population of this country increases, so will the number of needy living within it.

    Secondly, if you ever patronize a business that pays its workers minimum wage, which easily helps them qualify to receive DHHS benefits, i.e. welfare, food stamps, WIC, SNAP and Medicaid, then YOU are part of the problem.

    The minimum wage in this country needs to be raised to an honest amount a person receiving it can actually LIVE on. Until it is, the companies who pay their workers substandard wages while making us think we're getting their products and services at reduced prices, are not only stiffing their employees, they're stiffing the US taxpayer who then has to pay taxes to supplement their underpaid employee's wages to an amount a human being can actually live upon.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Feb 7, 2014

    "'I am extremely proud of the work performed by our state and county workers to meet the federal deadlines,' DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos said in a press release Friday."

    Deadlines which the agency should NEVER have had put upon it had their done their jobs right and efficiently to begin with.

    "'Our top priority continues to be getting these important benefits to eligible North Carolina families in a timely manner.'"

    Were that true, it would never have let the backlog get so far behind to begin with.

    This agency has done little but embarrass the state and put itself under the Federal microscope with its negligence and lack of concern for those its suppose to serve - the neediest in this state.

    Praying for anyone that has to depend upon it for aid of any kind.

  • Alex25 Feb 7, 2014

    Please Stop pushing MORE Govt and the dependency it creates!!

  • Justic4All Feb 7, 2014

    Amazing what happens when pressure is applied to the proper area. Bleeding stops. I'm disappointed in the headline in that it reads as if WRAL is not satisfied with the tremendous gains made. Instead of "More than 500", sounds negative. I would think the story line should be, "Case Count Down to Over 500", which sounds more positive. But what should I expect from the liberal media?

  • Linger Feb 7, 2014

    A lot of these people do work. Otherwise known as the The Working Poor. They can also be students, the elderly, children, or the disabled.
    Requirements for Food Stamps in NC:
    Be a resident, a person who shares their household with a person or persons age 60 and over, or with a person with a disability (a child, your spouse, a parent, or yourself) and have an yearly gross (before tax) income of less than $14,079 (7.33hr) for one person; $18,941 (9.86hr) for two people; $23,803 (13.39hr) for three people; and $28,665 (14.92hr) for four people etc in said household.

    Work does not necessarily set you free.

  • stymieindurham Feb 7, 2014

    Stay out of my wallet and you wouldn't HAVE a back log. SOMEBODY would go to work!!!!