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DHHS takes steps to eliminate backlog of food stamp requests

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TWC News: DHHS takes steps to eliminate backlog of food stamp requests
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RALEIGH--New steps are being taken to get food stamps to North Carolinians in need. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services updated the new "North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology," known as the NC Fast software system. It serves as a one-stop shop to deliver social services and Medicaid benefits for more than one million North Carolinians in need.

Since then county-level division of social services offices across the state have experienced a back log in processing the benefits applications and re-certifications.

Now DHHS is taking proactive steps to help solve the issue and get those in need assistance at a faster rate. This week, DHHS is training a team to become experts at using the software for NC FAST. DHHS asked Division of Social Services offices in each county in the state to send outstanding food stamp assistant cases to Raleigh, where this team will process them.

"While you're there in the county trying to prevent them from becoming overdue, then we'll be here in Raleigh working day and night working to get those cases caught up," said Wayne Black, DHHS Division of Social Services director.

In August there were food and nutrition service benefit cases in 766,970 households, according to DHHS. Wake County Division of Social Services reports a backlog of 3,014 applications as of the end of August. During September, Wake County DSS processed 1,521 applications in three weeks, averaging about 500 per week. New Hanover County DSS reports a backlog of 100 applications for August and September.

In the past week, the team at DHHS has completed more than 3,000 re-certification cases.

"No matter how tired you are at the end of the day, what makes you feel good is that you're able to go ahead and get those re-certifications done and feed these families on time," said Bill Orlando, DHHS staff development specialist.

Once the county-level cases are complete, more than 160 state workers will be sent to offices in all 100 counties by early October.

"[There will be] at least one new state employee who will be in their county, working to assist them in training, working to assist them in working cases," said Black.

This week DHHS is also offering more in-depth training sessions for county-level DSS workers.

"We can provide additional support on top of what we already have to our employees," said Allison Smith, Johnston County Social Services.

Despite the challenges, DHHS remains confident NC FAST will be a dependable, paperless method to provide state supported services to those in need.

As individuals and families in need wait for their food stamps, many food banks have partnered with county DSS offices to provide temporary food assistance.

"They've got families, they've got children and they need to be fed. The sooner the better," said Peter Werbicki, president of Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

In central and eastern North Carolina alone, the food bank reports partner agencies have assisted 70,000 more people this July and August compared to last.

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