A new computer program at social services departments statewide could mean delays for Scotland County food stamp recipients for the foreseeable future.
This month, the Scotland County Department of Social Services implemented NC FAST, a state-mandated food and nutrition services computer system, according to Willette Jones, food and nutrition services supervisor at Scotland County DSS.
The program is designed to cut down on redundant paperwork and draw less upon administrative resources, enabling DSS staff to spend more time with those seeking assistance.
But for now, the transition to NC FAST is throwing a wrench into the system for some people on food stamps.
Sehail White, who applied for food stamps for herself and her six-year-old daughter, said that she has visited the Scotland County DSS three times in the last two weeks and has yet to see benefits this month.
“I normally get them on the 15th, I had surgery and went out there the next day to find out what is going on,” said White. “I redid my paper and asked about my emergency stamps… They told me that they didn’t know how long it would take.”
Scotland County Department of Social Services is currently in the process of entering all information for the 5,000 families in its caseload into the new program.
“It’s called a conversion process; all the cases have to come from the old system to the new system,” Jones said. “These cases have to be converted - when a person turns in their re-certification form, it’s a longer process of keying information in the new system. It’s like building the case all over again with new information we did not have to have in the old system.”
DSS is offering no guarantee of quick or emergency benefits for those who submit late applications, or late re-certifications from those who have had a month or more break in their benefits.
“To receive benefits for this month, for November, they should have had their paperwork turned in by October 15,” Jones said. “From the first of the month to 15th of the month, if you turn in your re-certification during that time, normally your benefits will be on your card on time. If they turn it in late, we have to enter it as a brand new application - they don’t have to do more paperwork.”
Receipt of food stamps could come as late as 30 days after application for those who apply late, and Jones recommended that those currently receiving food stamps stretch them as far as possible in case of future delays.
“They really need to be wise in their spending,” she said. “We don’t want people’s benefits delayed, we don’t want them to be without food, but right now it’s something that’s beyond our control.”
Unaware of the changes until she applied for food stamps, White has been left with little recourse in the face of the NC FAST transition.
“They don’t know how long it’s going to take or when we’ll be able to get some food,” said White. “They give you a number and push you over to the side. I had to send my daughter to school hungry because there’s nothing at home to eat.”
Jones could not provide a timeline for completion of the NC FAST conversion or for when DSS would return to processing food stamp applications on schedule.
“In the future, it’s going to be what we call a one-stop shop,” said Jones. “That’s long term. For any program that they apply for when they come in, eventually Medicaid, Child Protective Services, Work First, they’ll just see one person.”