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Problems with food stamps vastly improve

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

Four months after the Lincoln County Department of Social Services experienced an unexpected shutdown in computer operations, delaying monthly food stamps for a number of citizens, DSS officials have seen ample improvements while simultaneously bracing themselves for future healthcare changes.

The food stamp issue stemmed from the North Carolina Division of Social Services, which tried to implement Medicaid into its NC FAST system in July.

NC FAST is used for to streamline applications for the state’s Food and Nutrition Services program.

The backlog in food stamps affected more counties across the state than just Lincoln.

A month after the initial incident, the issue continued to exist with no solution in sight, forcing a number of county residents to turn to local food banks for assistance and DSS employees to enter residents’ information into the computer by hand.

Oftentimes, employees used pen and paper to keep the process moving.

With empty shelves and dwindling supplies, local nonprofits found themselves facing a crisis of epic proportions, and were unprepared to feed residents on the same scale as DSS.

According to Lincoln County DSS Director Susan McCracken, the dilemma now appears to be decreasing in size, with little to no residents across the county receiving late food stamps.

“We are in much better shape,” she said, “and we will be better every day from here on out.”

If a problem does exist, it’s the result of a random system glitch, which can’t always be predicted or prevented beforehand, McCracken said.

She thanked residents for their continued patience with the agency.

While positive improvements have been made, not everything is back to normal.

In the past, DSS had the ability to ensure timely food stamps nearly a month ahead of schedule.

However, local officials now work day-to-day.

“It’s discouraging we can’t get back to that,” McCracken said. “I’m concerned (with making sure) that everyone who needs their benefits today has them today.”

As food stamp issues die down, new healthcare-related changes have been cropping up.

Since Oct. 1, DSS officials in Raleigh have been working to also incorporate Medicaid into NC FAST.

Eventually, residents will have only one application to complete for all potential government assistance.

Currently, applications for each benefits program must be done separately, requiring much time and attention from DSS employees.

McCracken anticipates a complete shutdown of the state Medicaid system and the availability of one application by February or March.

DSS is also currently holding applications for people waiting for Obamacare health insurance to kick in Jan. 1

Local DSS officials have witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of Medicaid applicants since Obamacare enrollment commenced earlier this fall.

“The state had 10,000 applications pending in the federal system,” McCracken said.

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