Food stamp backlog shipped to Raleigh

Caldwell's back-logged recertification applications sent to Raleigh for processing.
Sep. 24, 2013 @ 08:05 AM

The backlog that has plagued food stamp recipients in Caldwell County since January, causing some to wait many weeks between benefit payments, could be cleared within two weeks now that more than 1,400 backlogged food stamp recertification applications have been sent to Raleigh for processing, officials said.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Social Services created a team of 25 employees to process recertifications for about 20 counties in North Carolina that are experiencing the most delays in recertifying clients. The 1,415 cases in Caldwell County were loaded in large boxes Monday and driven to Raleigh. The goal is to have the backlog caught up within two weeks, Caldwell County Social Services Director Joyce Edwards said.

"There was a big sigh of relief by everybody in getting this help," Edwards said. "It means a great deal because we have struggled for quite a while. It's been difficult for the workers being behind (while) trying to meet the client need, and having people disgruntled with us."

In January, the state began rolling out a new computer system called NCFAST, which was supposed to streamline the application process for a variety of government benefits. The first benefits handled through NCFAST were the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps. A backlog exacerbated by numerous computer glitches resulted in as many as 2,000 clients in Caldwell County, and thousands more across the state, relying on local food banks for weeks while waiting for money to be put into their benefit accounts. Raleigh sent workers to social services offices across the state to help clear the backlog, but it persisted. Some county employees have been working mandatory six-day work weeks to try and catch up.

"It's really taken a lot of stress off the workers," said DSS employee Deborra Horton. "I think it's going to really take some of the pressure off of them so we can concentrate on getting some other parts of NCFAST going."

Yokefellow director Sharon Osborne said this was welcome news for the 3,000 clients her crisis assistance ministry sees each month, many of whom rely on food stamps.

"We were excited to hear this news," Osborne said. "I appreciate the efforts by social services and the state to identify the critical need. These are faces. These are mothers, fathers, children and seniors."