Thu September 19, 2013
Cabarrus Among Nine 'Code Red' Counties With Food Stamp Delays
In Cabarrus County, low-income families are having to wait more than two months on average to get food stamps. The delays are tied to a new system the state has made all counties use since March. Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union are among nine counties the state says have struggled the most with it.
The new online system is called NC FAST, and it's supposed to make it easier in the long run for people to apply for all kinds of assistance.
But there's been nothing easy about the transition for many counties. In Cabarrus, Human Services Director Ben Rose said slow Internet and system glitches have resulted in a huge backlog for food stamps.
"It's been like snowball," Rose said. "It's gotten worse and worse each month, and now it's just hard to really dig out from under it at this point."
Rose said the average delay is now between two and two and a half months.
He said the county has improved its Internet speed and fixed glitches with the state's help. Cabarrus has also hired 10 temporary employees to work on the backlog of cases.
"But what happens, you have to remember, is that each new month, we get about 1,200 to 1,500 more (cases)," Rose said.
Union County also had large backlogs. Rae Alepa is the director of social services there.
"I think in Union County the backlog grew to about 1,067 cases," Alepa said.
She said it took an average of three to four weeks for people to get food stamps. But she says Union has roughly cleared its backlog by working overtime and sending more than 600 cases to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
"We got notification from the state that we could send all of our backlog to them, and they would process the cases for us," Alepa said. "It was a huge relief."
The state has made that an option for nine "code red" counties. State Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Julie Henry says they include Union, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Stanly counties.
Henry said the state has also added 160 temporary employees to work on the backlogs.
"And so by bringing on these additional staff, the hope is that we can have that support right on hand in the counties so that they can resolve issues more quickly and there won't be the delay," Henry said.
She couldn't say how many counties total still have backlogs or what the average delay is for food stamps.
In Cabarrus County, Human Services Director Rose says the extra staffing has helped. But he says it'll still take at least three months to clear the backlog. And that's assuming all goes well in October, when counties will have to use NC FAST to handle Medicaid applications.