02/10/13 — Food stamp delay shifts to May

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Food stamp delay shifts to May

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 10, 2013 1:50 AM

The backlog in processing hundreds of food stamp applications in Wayne County is being chipped away, but it will be May before it is completely cleared -- just in time for Medicaid information to be entered into the new statewide software system that created the jam to start with.

Wayne County implemented the system, North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology, in October.

The problem is that it is slower than the old system, said Debbie Jones, Wayne County Department of Social Services director. What used to take 30 minutes to complete, now requires up to two hours per person, she said. The delay is not caused by working with a client, but by the time it takes to enter the information into the system, particularly when there are six or seven people in a family, she said.

"We will eventually get caught up, but not until six months into the process," Ms. Jones said. "It will be May before we are completely free and clear."

That is because of the staggered application schedule, she said. Some have to be recertified every 12 months, but most have to be recertified every six months.

The recent round started in November so the six months will be completed in May. After that time it will be a mater of certifying new applications and the remaining few that are on a 12-month cycle, she said.

"DSS employees are conducting a food drive to assist people who have not received benefits," Ms. Jones said. "During the month of February, employees can dress down for the day if they bring a donation of non-perishable food items. We will donate this food to the Salvation Army as it accumulates."

Understaffing has also played a part in the backlog of what last month was 500 applications, Ms. Jones said.

Also, the workload is heavier during the winter because people who work outside are unable to work and apply for help, she said.

The department was approved for overtime pay. However, through the use of temporary workers and compensatory time for regular staff, no overtime pay has been required.

The department, which is on a four-day work week, worked two Fridays and one Saturday in January to help clear the backlog.

"We are looking at two Fridays in February, too," Ms. Jones said.

Currently there are 348 pending applications and 64 that are overdue.

Clients who were eligible for benefits in November and December have received them even though they might have been received in the month they were due, Ms. Jones said.

Currently 475 people have not received their January benefits pending phone calls or receipt of information. Forms have been mailed requesting clients to call for a phone interview or to send the needed information to process the reviews, she said.

Other program information, including Medicaid, Work First, Special Assistance and Refugee Assistance and Child Services, will be added to the new software system.

The concept is that having all of the information in one system will allow clients to submit one application for various programs and services, thereby minimizing the number of people they will need to see to apply for benefits, Ms. Jones said.

Next on the list is converting Medicaid information into the new system.

That process is not expected to be as burdensome since the information for people who receive Medicaid as well as food stamps will already be in the system, said Charlene Morris, DSS economic services program administrator.

Staff who enter the Medicaid information will still have to be trained to use the new system.