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Delay in food stamps depletes local food bank

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

More than a month after a software system with North Carolina’s Department of Social Services crashed, backlogging food stamps issuances for numerous counties, including Lincoln, the problem remains at a standstill.

In fact, the issue is now affecting the food supply at Christian Ministry of Lincolnton, according to Executive Director Susan Brymer.

“We’ve noticed a rise (in numbers) at the soup kitchen,” she said.

In mid-July, the state’s NC FAST system for Food and Nutrition Services stopped working properly after state officials decided to test the software by also implementing individuals’ Medicaid information, Lincoln County DSS Director Susan McCracken said.

Once completed, the now-chaotic system, will, in theory, house eligibility information on all programs for which an individual successfully qualifies.

Currently, applications for each program are done separately, demanding more time and effort from state DSS officials.

McCracken said the recent software problems have prompted county DSS workers to enter residents’ information by hand.

On Wednesday, the software remained down for most of the day and has continued to be “hit or miss” each week.

“There’s no understanding of why it works one minute and not the next,” McCracken said. “We hope every day it will be better.”

Without food, DSS clients have been turning to the already-dwindling food supply at Christian Ministry, forcing nonprofit officials to seek additional food bank donations.

“I don’t know if they have any extra,” Brymer said of Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte, where her organization typically receives monthly food assistance.

A delivery is set to come today, but she is uncertain how much, if any, items will be on the truck.

Christian Ministry, mostly a church-run organization due to the sizable donations area churches provides, has even dipped into its emergency services fund because of the DSS issue, using $3,000 this year to buy more food.

Brymer said her nonprofit is not designed to provide and operate in the same capacity as a government-run system such as DSS.

“We are not equipped to give out the same amount of food as food stamps (provides),” she said.

After Christian Ministry received thousands of dollars in food products the end of July, the items have since been handed out.

Most days, a maximum-capacity crowd develops at Christian Ministry’s side door as early as 7:30 a.m., 90 minutes before the nonprofit actually opens to interview residents requesting assistance, whether it be for food, finances or more.

“People are hurting,” Brymer said. “‘I don’t have anything to eat’ — that’s what we hear from person after person after person.”

Lincoln County DSS has offered to help Christian Ministry with manpower until the software gets back on track — a time frame which has yet to be determined.

“Whether it is to send them staff or help determine needs,” McCracken said.

“They’ve been so kind to help our families.”

While the state DSS agency has already sent additional workers to various county-level DSS facilities over the last several weeks, more are expected to dispatch to different areas across the state, McCracken said, in order to once again work on the ongoing predicament — now at crisis level.

DSS and Christian Ministry officials alike are desperate for a solution, having already exhausted multiple food sources.

“The only thing I know to do is a community plea,” Brymer said.

 

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