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Cabarrus, Other Counties Shorten Food Stamp Delays

Michael Tomsic

Low-income families in Cabarrus County still face long delays before getting food stamps, although those delays are getting shorter.

They're tied to a new online system the state is making counties use for applications for food stamps. Cabarrus and Mecklenburg were among several counties the state called "code red" last month because of how much they struggled with the new system.

WFAE's Michael Tomsic reports on the progress those counties have made.   

Mollie Parris has a frustrating job.  

"I handle the food stamp re-certifications and troubleshooting with the wonderful NC FAST program," she said with a hint of sarcasm.

Parris works for Cabarrus County, which started using NC FAST in February. It's an online system that's supposed to make it easier to process applications for all kinds of government assistance. The state decided to try it with food stamps first.

Parris showed how it works, typing someone's information into the system. It can take hours to fill in all the data for just a single family's food stamp renewal.

Trish Baker is an administrator for Cabarrus County. She says in the old system, "We kept the paper documents that supported the eligibility - are you eligible, and this is why we determine that you're eligible, based on we verified your rent, we verified your wages."

"Now you're having to type all that into NC FAST," she said.

Cabarrus is among the counties that struggled the most with the transition. At the low point, families had to wait at least two months on average to get food stamps.

That's down to about a month and a half now. Ben Rose is the county's director of human services. 

"We were at a point just in July where we had a backlog of over 4,000," he said. "We're now just a little over 2,000, and it's getting better every day."

Rose said that's partly due to county employees working nights and weekends. The county also hired temporary staff. And the state Department of Health and Human Services is pitching in.

"We have actually driven cases to Raleigh," he said. "(We've) carried boxes of files, and they have worked on them."

The state has taken care of about of 2,000 of Cabarrus' cases.

All in all, it's processed more than 21,000 cases from 27 counties, according to a state health department spokeswoman. She wouldn't say how many counties still have backlogs or how long families have to wait to get food stamps.

Mecklenburg County sent about 2,300 cases to the state. Rodney Adams is with the county's Department of Social Services.

"We no longer have a backlog," he said. "We ended our backlog about the third week of September."

Adams said Mecklenburg County staff worked early mornings, long nights and weekends to get rid of it.

The state added a new kind of assistance to NC FAST on October first – Medicaid applications. Officials from Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and several other counties say there have been glitches. But so far, none are reporting Medicaid backlogs.