Some food stamp recipients say they're still waiting

State and local officials say there is no backlog
Nov. 22, 2013 @ 08:06 AM

Local officials say there is no more backlog of people waiting weeks for food stamp benefits, but that's not what people at local crisis assistance agencies hear.

"It's everybody who recertified in September or October who are having these issues," said South Caldwell Christian Ministries director Deborah Thomas. "These people, and DSS, thought the second time around would go much faster. It's very hard for these folks.

"Those who are getting their food stamps, we're not seeing. We are still seeing too many people that are taking two months to get recertification money."

Christina Lee, who was at Caldwell County Yokefellow on Thursday morning, said she sent in her paperwork in the middle of October to continue receiving benefits, but when she called last week to check on the progress, she was told it would take another two months to get her food stamp money.

"It's hard. I don't know what they expect people to do," she said. "They shouldn't say they're caught up if they're not."

Teresa Pritchard said she sent in her paperwork the first week in September, and on Wednesday "They told me they were backed up and would get to it as soon as they could."

Stories such as those became common after a backlog delaying the issuance of benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, began in January when the state began handling the benefits through a new computer system called NCFAST, which is intended to expedite the processing of various government benefits. As many as 2,000 Caldwell County residents had to wait weeks without benefit payments because of the delays.

In September the state had counties send their backlogged cases, including 1,415 in Caldwell County, to Raleigh for processing. On Sept. 23,  the local Department of Social Services loaded a van with its backlogged food stamp cases and took them to Raleigh for processing. In October, social services officials said the backlog had been cleared, and that staff are working longer hours to try to keep up.

But Will Wakefield, program administrator for adult and family support services, said he is not aware of any large number of people whose benefits are very far behind. His office is currently working on cases for November benefits.

"There may be some cases where there is a system error and they did not receive timely (benefits) in October, but for general recertifications, October benefits have been released," he said.  "Also, we are on a fine line of getting benefits released on the exact date as we move through the month. That is still the case this month, but November benefits are being released."

According to Wayne Black, director of the N.C. Division of Social Services, the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients statewide are getting their benefits.

"It's only a very small number, maybe five or 10 per county, who are having problems with NCFAST," Black said. "We're not aware folks are not getting their benefits on time otherwise. If someone is not, and they have gotten their documentation in, have these food pantries that are serving them call me with their information.

"We don't want to have anybody behind on food stamps."