Editorial: Snafu in food benefits just keeps rolling

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 01:28 AM

If it’s any consolation to those Caldwell County residents who have been struggling to get by on trips to local food banks because of weeks-long delays in the processing of government food benefits, the same problems are being felt everywhere in North Carolina – including the state capital.

The News & Observer reports that Octavia Rainey, an activist in southeast Raleigh, came to the Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday to complain that people are seeing delays as long as eight or nine weeks in their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Dozens of those people are showing up at Rainey’s house seeking her help. Those who try calling Wake County Human Services, which administers the benefits there, keep getting directed to voice mail and may never get a call back.

“I should not have people knocking on my door at quarter to seven asking me for help that human services staff is paid to provide,” Rainey told the commissioners.

In Raleigh, just as here, food banks have been walloped.

The food aid problems stem, in Raleigh as they do here, from the implementation of NC FAST, a $48.2 million system that was supposed to provide a new, more efficient way to pay into recipients’ electronic bank accounts. The rollout of the system has been anything but smooth. In Caldwell, initially a backlog developed from the tough slog of county workers learning a new system. Just when that seemed to be clearing, computer updates started causing glitches that slowed everything down again.

Ricky Diaz, communication director for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement Friday that the state is working closely with counties to “minimize the impact on clients.”

Well, thank goodness for that, but this problem has been dragging on for several months in Caldwell County, so we are well past the point at which “the impact on clients” could be minimized.

It is too simplistic to say that someone’s head should roll for this seemingly never-ending problem, but some reaction at the state level that mirrored the desperation of the hungry would be nice.