USDA issues more warnings to state health agency

Posted January 24, 2014

Aldona Wos, Secretary of Health and Human Services for Gov. Pat McCrory, attends a news conference at the Governor's Mansion on Jan. 21, 2014.

— The U.S. Department of Agriculture has again criticized the state's health agency for what it says are serious problems with the implementation of North Carolina's new food stamps delivery system.

In the latest response in a months-long back and forth between the federal agency and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, USDA administrators say the state is still at risk of losing federal funding for the food stamps program. If the state doesn't fix the massive backlog of cases, that could happen as soon as mid-March.

The USDA also questioned the state's claim that implementation of the Affordable Care Act was to blame for many of the difficulties.

"It should be noted that many other States have implemented ACA without the dramatic impacts on SNAP that have occurred in North Carolina," USDA Regional Administrator Robin Bailey wrote to DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos Thursday.

Read the documents

Correspondence between N.C. DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and the U.S. Department of Agriculture between Sept. 4 and Jan. 23 detail areas that required "urgent attention from the state."

In response to lawmakers at a legislative oversight committee last week, Wos expressed frustrations at what she said were serious challenges posed by the new health law.  

"The deadlines have shifted and changed at the last minute because of the implementation of the ACA," Wos said.

As of Jan. 23, DHHS officials estimate more than 20,000 cases have been pending for 30 days or more.

That's an improvement over figures the department produced earlier in the month, which showed that as many as 30,000 cases continued to languish for weeks in the state's new social services delivery system, known as NC FAST.

Much of the reduction over the past month comes from the state's elimination of thousands of duplicate cases stuck in the system. DHHS officials have said some of these food stamps clients may have already received their benefits, although the system prevents people from getting paid more than once.

The department has so far identified and removed 9,500 redundant cases from the NC FAST system.

More waiting

Data issued by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services shows the wait times for food stamp applications and recertifications in North Carolina.

Nov. 18
Dec. 31
Jan. 14
Jan. 24
Source: DHHS

But those eliminations reduce the backlog to about where it stood Nov. 18, when more than 22,000 cases had been waiting more than 30 days. 

It was that mid-November data that prompted the USDA to warn it could soon suspend federal funding for the administration of the state's food stamp program.

But in its latest letter, which DHHS officials released at 4:47 p.m. Friday, the federal agency says the state hasn't demonstrated much progress toward improving "actual service to households" and pointed to department figures that show more than 8,000 households have been waiting for more than three months for benefits.

"FNS is alarmed by the persistent problems despite our extensive technical assistance and repeated communications concerning the severity of the situation," Bailey wrote. "Citizens of North Carolina that need help putting food on the table are not receiving the basic level or responsiveness and quality of service that they deserve from their government."

DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and Chief Information Officer Joe Cooper Records: DHHS downplayed food stamp issues

By Feb. 10, federal officials said they expect to see "significant corrective action" toward reducing the food stamp backlog, which includes completing all backlogged applications that have been pending more than three months. 

DHHS officials, who have submitted plans to the USDA to bring the state's food stamps program into compliance by March 31, pointed out in a news release Friday that they've have taken measures to address the problems.

"We strongly disagree with the federal government's threat to withhold Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administrative funds, which could adversely impact counties' abilities to assist families in need. However, we are encouraged by positive conversations between Governor McCrory, Secretary Wos and the U.S. Agriculture Secretary (Tom) Vilsack that resulted in a verbal agreement of our plan to clear up outstanding FNS applications and recertifications," said Sherry Bradsher, DHHS deputy secretary for human services. "We will continue working closely with our partners in county government to solve this problem."


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  • ALECarolina Jan 29, 2014

    "The Government should not be stealing from person A and giving what was stolen to person B."

    Yeah, we agree absolutely.....too bad you didn't subscribe to your little nugget of wisdom back in '99, when the Supreme Court stopped the vote count in Florida, stole the election from the guy who had more votes, and installed their corporate fascist puppet.

    Right, Einstein........we can just "get rid of food stamps" because your boy Pat "it's the extreme leftist liberal media's fault" McCrory and his master of sabotage, Alblamea Wos, are hell-bent on destroying DHHS so they can privatize it.

    No wonder ya'll can't win a national election, or even a state election without using Karl Rove's new gerrymandering software........and before you squawk about "voter fraud", how is it possible that the NCGOP won the last election if voter fraud is so "rampant"?

    Come on?

  • whatelseisnew Jan 28, 2014

    Simple fix. Get rid of food stamps. The Government should not be stealing from person A and giving what was stolen to person B.

  • Honesty first Jan 27, 2014

    Come on Pat, do your job. You put Wos in place and now you need to take her out. Do it before everything gets worse. You have already assured yourself of only one term. I think if Bev ran she could beat you right now. Maybe even Easley.

  • free2bme Jan 27, 2014

    Well Wos and McCrory are the best thing the Dems have going for them. With this kind of incompetence, they have a good chance at getting my vote and others.

  • ssmithsand Jan 26, 2014

    Incompetence in my day meant the unemployment line! How many second chances does a person get?

  • arrowood133 Jan 26, 2014

    Once again, The Party of Personal Responsibility shows that those are just catchy,hollow words that they have no intentions of applying to themselves...

  • jackjones2nc Jan 25, 2014

    The more that Republicans keep sabotaging efforts to help families, the more NC tax dollars will end up going to other states. Shame on Republicans.

  • Ijaz Fahted Jan 25, 2014

    View quoted thread

    No one is expecting this to be magically fixed with the wave of a wand. What we do expect is that when the head of NC DHHS says the problem is fixed and the backlog is under control that it is IN FACT the case. Clearly it is not, we still have 20k people waiting 30days for their benefits. This isn't a Dem/Rep issue, it's an incompetence issue with our DHHS. They knew the system wasn't ready and still put it into service like it was OK.

    Blame who you want, but it still remains. Head of DHHS said everything is under control and it isn't.

  • ccsmith1902 Jan 25, 2014

    Wos needs to go. Other states have functioned just fine under the ACA.

  • starshield Jan 25, 2014

    This is a tactic that the Democrats are using to try and steer the election in their favor. They are scared they will lose Kays seat.