Food stamp clients puzzled by letters from Raleigh

Blank pages have recipients running to social services for help
Mar. 05, 2014 @ 01:14 PM

Some food stamp recipients have received a letter from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services advising, "The following action has been taken in your case:" -- followed by nothing.

Afraid that the letter means their benefits have been cut off, clients are flooding social services for help.

"We're still getting calls every day about this," said Martha Hedrick, the food and nutrition supervisor for Caldwell County's Department of Social Services.

Other clients are getting letters stating their benefits have been discontinued, but with no explanation or with erroneous information.

Joyce Edwards, Caldwell County DSS director, said staff members have been meeting with clients who reported receiving the letters and either resending their information to DHHS for processing or giving them an appeal form to complete.

"We don't know who got those letters, but when they come in, we are handling it ourselves," Edwards said. "We will try to do the letters manually. The letters will also say to disregard any letters from Raleigh."

Kevin Howell, a spokesman for DHHS in Raleigh, said Tuesday he was not aware of any letters sent to approved clients containing no information, but because of a programming error in the system that handles food stamp benefits a letter was sent to nearly 69,000 food stamp recipients whose benefits were being denied or terminated between Feb. 1-10 that left out the reason for a benefits denial or termination. A new notice was mailed on Feb. 11 that contained the complete information, and the problem that caused the error has been resolved, Howell said.

This is just the latest of many problems that have been plaguing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, since the NCFAST computer system -- NC Families Accessing Services through Technology -- was rolled out in January 2013.

NCFAST was intended eventually to expedite the handling of a host of government benefits. Food stamps were the first, and Caldwell County was one of the first counties to use the system in early 2013. Problems with the system soon created a backlog of cases, with clients waiting weeks or months for benefits.

Despite state efforts, county-level social services officials say NCFAST remains replete with glitches and winds up taking more time to handle cases than was needed before the system was rolled out.