Mary Katherine Murphy Staff Writer
November 18, 2013
LAURINBURG — A year after a new computer program meant to streamline the process of applying for benefits was installed at the Scotland County Department of Social Services, glitches in the system are still causing up to a month’s delay in the receipt of food assistance.
Last November, the N.C. Families Accessing Services Through Technology — N.C. FAST — software was introduced in the state’s 100 social services offices by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. At the time, officials with the Scotland County Department of Social Services reported six-week plus delays in benefits as the office’s limited staff reentered clients into the new system.
Willette Jones, food and nutrition services supervisor for Scotland County DSS, said that locally, there are currently about 20 cases that were referred to the state more than a month ago with no response as of yet. Those clients will not receive food stamps until the issue with their case is resolved.
“It just depends on when we can get it resolved through the NCFast help desk,” said Jones. “I have some that has been a couple of months, and we have some where they call you back on the same day.”
The N.C. FAST program was designed to streamline the process for those applying to receive benefits through multiple programs, so that those applying for Food and Nutrition Services, Medicaid, energy assistance, Work First, or other programs need only submit application information once.
N.C. DHHS maintains that, when the system is performing optimally, it “will enable staff to spend less time performing administrative tasks and more time assisting families.”
With the “hard launch” of N.C. FAST in October, meaning shutdown of the old system and total reliance upon N.C. FAST, some receiving food stamps and other benefits are still experiencing multi-week delays. Jones said that when local clients report non receipt of scheduled benefit payments, the problem is reported to the state’s N.C. Fast Help Desk, which may respond in a day, a week, or a month.
“We don’t know until the client lets us know,” she said. “Usually, if we process an application today, we expect the benefits to be on their card tomorrow.”
The delays have been felt statewide. Becky Morrow, the director of the Department of Social Services in neighboring Robeson County, has asked that county’s commissioners for $5,000 so that the department can continue issuing vouchers through the delays.