RALEIGH, N.C. — The director of the Division of Social Services for the state of North Carolina says help is on the way for counties struggling to get food stamps to needy households.
Food stamps are now known as Food and Nutrition Services, and they’re passed out through North Carolina Families Access Services through Technology, or NC FAST.
The state began implementing NC FAST in May of 2012, and Guilford County DSS had problems with it until June of 2013. Then in July of 2013, the state added Medicaid questions to the system, and the problems began anew.
The end goal for NC Fast, according to Social Services Director Wayne Black, is a 21st century system that allows households to apply for all benefit programs at once.
The old system required applicants to fill out form after form for multiple social workers. There was no backup system.
“It’s always been our plan, our dream, our vision to get to the point where we would have one automated case system, and that’s what NC FAST is,” Black said.
When it works, NC FAST can be an excellent one-stop shop for helping needy people get the benefits they need. The problem is, it doesn’t always work, according to Guilford County’s Department of Social Services.
The state sent out a letter notifying counties that NC FAST would need certain technical requirements to function. Then the state began implementing NC FAST, even as many counties were unable to make the changes required.
What’s happened since in Guilford County is multiple issues with the NC FAST program failing to interact with county computers. This has resulted in multiple system shutdowns, which has put social workers way behind in rectifying DSS customers.
Guilford County has a backlog of about 6,000 cases.
“There were a few defects, and there’ve been a few defects going on in terms of the electronic system itself,” Black said. “This is a significant case management system, and there’ve been unintended consequences, unintended defects if you will.”
Those unintended consequences are people who haven’t gotten the monthly benefits they count on for weeks to months.
One food stamp customer emailed FOX8 saying he was surviving on three meals a week and had lost 20 pounds since he last had food stamps.
Another customer said she was directed to a food bank, where she picked up expired food.
“We won’t be satisfied until every food stamp recipient in North Carolina get their benefits on time,” Black said,
Black said he hopes the problems will be taken care of by the first week of October, but he admitted that was not a firm date.
“The assurance I can give is that we’re working 24/7, including weekends, to try to get to the point where everyone in the state gets their benefits,” Black said.
Black also said the DHHS would send NC FAST experts to each of North Carolina’s 100 counties to fix glitches and help with the backlog.
“We’re making progress every day,” Black said.