Glitch Delays Food Stamps - Brevard NC
Last updated 8/26/2013 at 9:11am
A recent computer upgrade to the new state food stamp system led to short delays in August benefits for around 3 percent of Transylvania County residents, but Department of Social Ser-vices (DSS) officials say no long-term problems should result.
The new program, North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology (NC FAST), is designed to improve the way the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and county departments of social services do business.
NC FAST introduces new technological tools and business processes that will enable workers to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time assisting families. The NC FAST system rolled out last February with food stamps being the first to transition to the new system.
DSS Director Stoney Blevins said that early on in the process there were no insurmountable issues with the transition, saying that by June the program was working well. But on the weekend of July 15 everything changed.
When the state attempted to add the Medicaid data into the program, coding errors prevented the processing of new applicants and six-month recertifications of recipients in the food stamp program.
“All of the sudden, in a day, workers no longer knew how to use the system because all of the rules had changed,” he said. “Statewide, you had county workers who could not process food stamp applications or six month reviews.”
Blevins said what made it even more frustrating is that workers would enter all of the data, complete the process, but then the computer error would prevent the system from doing anything.
“My staff was getting bumped out of the system 20 times per day,” he said. “We were working overtime. We went and hired a company to help us process, but we couldn’t make the system work.”
Blevins commended the state’s effort to rectify the problem, saying state officials continue to work around the clock to fix the issue.
Across the state, the problem has had a big impact with some counties experiencing delays of food stamp distribution of up to three months.
But here in Transylvania County, Blevins said just 91 families’ applications could not be processed in early August. By the end of the cutoff date in August, Blevins said almost all of those had been processed and had received their benefits.
“As of (Wednesday) other than a few cases that NC FAST can’t figure out, everyone got their food stamps,” he said. “We were able to avert the crisis in our county, but other counties are running up to two-and-a-half months behind.”
Because of the problem with a few of the families, this month marks the first time in 17 years that the local DSS office has not completed all timely claims by the cutoff date, Blevins said. In total, Blevins said they process around 100 applications per month and 300-400 six month recertifications per month.
“We’re hoping that we may be able to anticipate who may receive their benefits next month, if there are any, so that they could get special preference at the local food banks,” he said.
As a result of the delays, Blevins said the local food banks have been notified and are expecting additional demand. MANNA Food bank is coordinating this effort along with the local T.R.A.I.N. program.
“On the local level, we have excellent feeding ministry programs,” Blevins said. “No one should go hungry in Transylvania Count. We’ll work hard to keep anyone in this county from going hungry.”
Blevins said that despite the problems in implementing the new system, he believes it will ultimately be much better than what was in place.
“What we were using was very archaic,” he said. “What we have now will be a web-based, cloud-based system that will be much faster and it will allow citizens to apply from home from their computer. When it is finished, it really will be better.”
Blevins commended the DSS staff in Transylvania County for their tireless effort to stay ahead of the problem, saying their work is a true testament to how much they care about their clients.