State works to improve food stamp program

by: Torie Wells Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Eyewitness News obtained documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services about delays some have seen in getting food stamps in the state. That is an issue Channel 9 has been reporting on for weeks.

In one of the letters that the federal government sent to the state, it calls the delays "completely unacceptable and a serious failure on the part of North Carolina."

The letter goes on to say that the USDA has, "grave concern for the low-income people of North Carolina who are waiting for assistance." On Friday, DHHS told Channel 9, it's working aggressively and doing what it can to help counties catch up on the backlog.

In the same letter, dated Dec. 11, 2013, the USDA said the letter is an "advance notification that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services may soon be subject to the suspension or disallowance of administrative funds."

DHHS sent Channel 9 a statement from Sherry Bradsher, the deputy secretary for Human Services saying, "DHHS has already taken steps to ensure that applications and re-certifications are processed in a timely fashion and submitted a corrective action plan to address the concerns raised by the USDA. DHHS continues to work closely with county social services agencies and are monitoring our progress weekly. Our work will continue until all clients are receiving benefits in a timely manner."

DHHS also sent Eyewitness News a number of documents including its response letter to the USDA and its action plan. In that letter, DHHS said it has sent people to help DSS directors, that it will have more program representatives start in February and has been working with IBM on technical issues some counties are experiencing.
"Our goal is to be as aggressive as possible in resolving this so we don't have any sanctions," said Julie Henry, public affairs for DHHS.

She told Eyewitness News over the phone that the state is working closely with local counties and the federal government. She said that changes, some from federal requirements, have made the job harder.

"There have lots of changes that have occurred that have made this learning curve even steeper at the local level," she said.

She said the state hopes to have things ironed out by March.

A USDA spokesperson sent this statement Friday. "(Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is one of our country's strongest defenses against hunger and poverty and a critical support for eligible low-income families during tough economic times. USDA expects North Carolina to take whatever steps are necessary to fix these system issues as quickly as possible and deliver benefits to eligible clients in a timely fashion."

The Governor's Deputy Communications Director released this statement Friday:

"This letter is almost a month old, and DHHS has already taken corrective action and continues to work with the USDA on the issues raised. The governor has confidence that Secretary Wos and her team are working hard to ensure that those who need benefits, receive benefits. Another gimmicky press scheme from the extreme left won't help solve the problem -- Governor McCrory embraces solutions, not gimmicks."

The letter was initially brought to attention by the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.