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Tech issues result in late food stamps

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

Due to this month’s technological issues with the NC FAST software executed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Division of Social Services, some Lincoln County citizens have not received their food stamps on time.

According to the DHHS website, the goal of NC FAST, or North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology, is to improve how DHHS and each county’s DSS facility do business.

Susan McCracken, director of Lincoln County Department of Social Services, said recent tests in the state system’s software backlogged local citizens’ applications and re-certifications for Food and Nutrition Services.

Driven by the Affordable Care Act, which focuses on ensuring state Medicaid is updated and working properly, Raleigh officials specifically tried last week to implement Medicaid within the NC FAST system, DSS officials said.

However, the testing resulted in much chaos for DSS agencies across the state.

In response, local DSS employees stopped entering information into the system and worked solely on paper, since the software was losing documentation.

As a result, some people’s benefits were not getting sent to Raleigh.

McCracken said the issues began taking place at a time when DSS was finally getting caught up with NC FAST.

“It went haywire,” she said. “A lot of citizens have been very patient with us.”

While most of the state’s 100 counties took on the new software at the start of 2013, Lincoln County DSS didn’t jump on board until the end of January, allowing local individuals’ information to be entered into the system much later than others.

McCracken said Raleigh rolled out the system to sections of the state at a time rather than all at once.

“It was a huge undertaking for my staff,” McCracken said. “It didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped.”

The overall state system for eligibility programs needed to be replaced in order to save DSS agencies both time and money.

DHHS officials also wanted a system that would combine all its eligibility programs — Food and Nutrition Services, Medicaid, Work First, daycare subsidy and crisis request — into one easy application, McCracken said.

She added multiple factors such as income level, resources, household size and total expenses determine whether or not a person can get assistance, and that most Lincoln County DSS clients rank 200 percent below poverty level.

Josh Keener is one concerned citizen who receives Food and Nutrition Services each month.

He revealed his frustration with the agency after his food stamps didn’t arrive on time for July.

Keener typically receives stamps on the 15th, but as of Tuesday, they had to come, he said.

Since 2008, the county’s number of food stamp recipients has risen each year and currently includes 800 people a month.

“Applications have picked up tremendously,” McCracken said.

She attributes the increase in assistance to not only the poor economy and individuals’ loss of wages but also recent changes in state unemployment laws, which implemented shorter unemployment pay periods and other cuts in assistance.

McCracken was saddened about the late food stamps.

“We don’t want anyone’s benefits a minute late — not one minute,” she said.

Lincoln County isn’t alone with regard to slow receipt of food stamps in recent months.

McCracken said the problem has been occurring across the state for some time but that ultimately the new software system will be beneficial to state employees and citizens.

DSS officials hoped the problem would be solved by the end of the work week, but as of late Thursday afternoon, problems still existed.

McCracken feels helpless over the ongoing dilemma.

“I don’t have the answers,” she said. “I wish I did. We know people’s benefits are just sitting. The work has been done, but they (benefits) are still sitting there (in Raleigh).”

According to a DHHS release issued to state DSS agencies Thursday afternoon, state officials are quite aware of the issues at hand and are committed to fixing them in a variety of ways.

The state has agreed to send their officials to DSS locations for “over-the shoulder support “and training and bringing additional servers online to assist with NC FAST’s processing time.

Lastly, the release said DHHS is willing to conduct workshops throughout the state in advance of additional system changes and updates.

 

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