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USDA Warning Latest Problem For Wos, DHHS

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

North Carolina DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos has had a tough week.  Last Friday, it came out DHHS violated federal privacy laws by sending nearly 50,000 children’s insurance cards out to the wrong addresses.  And then letters from the USDA surfaced telling the state it would hold back food stamp money if the department doesn’t fix problems with the program.  It’s more ammunition for critics of Secretary Wos.

WFAE’s Lisa Miller joins Marshall Terry in the studio now. 

MT: Lisa, what does Secretary Wos have to say about all of this? 

LM: She hasn’t said anything herself.  The department sent out a press release saying they’re trying to figure out how all those insurance cards went out to the wrong families.  As far as the USDA letter, DHHS deputy secretary Sherry Bradsher said in a statement that DHHS has made it clear to the agency how it’s correcting problems with its software program.  The USDA in its letter says those problems have meant 20,000 people have experienced significant delays and over 6,000 people have been waiting for more than three months to receive food stamps. 

MT: So what exactly did this USDA letter say? 

LM: So, it’s dated December 11th.  It says the delays are “completely unacceptable” and “a serious failure” on the part of the state.  And then it goes on to say, if the USDA is not confident the state has a plan to fix the backlogs, the agency will consider suspending administrative costs for the program. 

MT: How much would that be?

LM: That amounts to $88 million a year.  But the USDA wouldn’t necessarily suspend all that money.    

MT:  What’s the reaction been to all this? 

LM: Some Democratic state lawmakers are calling on Governor McCrory to replace her.  They say she should’ve told them about the USDA’s concerns.  The USDA sent a letter back in September saying the state wasn’t doing a good enough job working with counties to fix the problems.  That letter didn’t come up at all when lawmakers grilled her during a hearing in October.  She said then the state was working hand-in-hand with counties. 

WOS: We are just forging ahead at every opportunity to help each other to succeed.  And I thank the counties for allowing us to help them. 

The legislative black caucus addressed the letters in press conferences across the state today.  In fact, it’s the black caucus that made the letters public.  Here’s Representative Beverly Earle of Charlotte. 

EARLE: It’s gotten to the point where you cannot feel confident that what you’re hearing is actually factual or not.  You ask a question.  If your question doesn’t go far enough, then you don’t get the full story.

MT: What’s the Governor’s reaction to this?

LM: His communications director said today McCrory has confidence in Wos and he went on to call the caucus’s actions another gimmicky press scheme.