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NC Coming Up Against Another Food Stamp Deadline

RALEIGH, N.C. North Carolina's health secretary said Wednesday that it will be "extremely difficult" to erase a backlog of outstanding food stamp applications by the end of the month to comply with demands from federal regulators.


Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, speaking to a General Assembly oversight committee, told lawmakers that county social service offices and state employees will have to work hard to meet requirements laid out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


"All of us have our work cut out for us over the next 19 days," she said. "The counties and the state must again work tirelessly."


The state already met a Feb. 10 deadline from the USDA to handle more than 20,000 applications and renewals pending for more than 90 days. USDA had threatened the loss of $88 million to continue administering the program unless the deadline was met.


Now they must resolve applications waiting longer than 30 days and emergency requests for assistance waiting longer than seven days. The number of outstanding applications was fewer than 1,700 as of Wednesday, according to DHHS, higher than the roughly 1,250 applications pending last month.


North Carolina's food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has been struggling to catch up with applications since last summer. That's when a new computer system used by county case workers to determine eligibility for government services got a software upgrade. State officials later blamed increased workloads for the case workers when the NC FAST network also began determining eligibility for Medicaid based on new income thresholds.


Joe Cooper, the chief information officer at DHHS, blamed the persistent backlog Wednesday on many factors, WRAL-TV reported (http://bit.ly/1cyozxm).


"It's the amount of work that's being done, it's the 100 counties, and it's the individual system," he said. "We had backlogs before NC FAST ever came along. We have a system now which can better track the backlog."


Acting state Medicaid director Sandra Terrell also told lawmakers her agency is asking federal regulators for permission to use the state's old computer system instead of NC FAST to determine Medicaid eligibility based on new rules within the federal health care overhaul law. The request comes after the state had received through March a three-month delay on changes to recalculate patient eligibility.


Terrell said the request to use the legacy computer system would prevent local case workers from having to re-key Medicaid renewal applications into NC FAST.


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