MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Channel 9 is still working to get answers on why Mecklenburg County is struggling to get food stamps to enrolled SNAP recipients.
For more than a decade, the recertification process has been backlogged. A few weeks ago, county leaders sat down with Channel 9′s Madison Carter to explain.
“We want to be current -- is the reason why we are in this backlog period -- because we know what to do, but we need the federal and state government to assist us in doing it,” Deputy County Manager Anthony Trotman said.
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“And what has the state said to you?” Carter asked. “You’ve been asking now for several years for the state to clear some of this. What have you gotten back from them?”
“Well, we’re still with the same processes that we’ve had before,” said County Manager Dena Diorio.
Carter took this issue, which is affecting thousands of families, to the state. She asked what the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is doing to help after hearing the pleas from the county for additional waivers.
“We are providing them with the flexibility that the federal government is still allowing us,” said Susan Osborne with the NCDHHS.
Osborne oversees the state’s collaboration with counties to distribute food stamps.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when the federal government allowed automatic re-enrollment for food stamps, Mecklenburg County eliminated its backlog for the first time in a decade. When that federal waiver was lifted this spring, the backlog returned.
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“We do have three flexibilities that will help ease this -- one that will not will go into effect this fall,” Osborne said.
The first lifts the in-person interview requirement for 50% of cases. The next allows people to sign documents over the phone, using their voice. The last goes into effect in October and will allow temp workers to complete some of the case work. Carter was told this is a major shift in current policy.
Carter went back to the county with that information and asked whether either of the two already in effect have helped. The response was while the help is appreciated, caseworkers feel having a 100% waiving of in-person interviews would make more sense. They said the current waivers have shortened processing times only in some instances.
Department workers are asking for more information on how those temp workers can be used.
“They can’t do the the actual determination,” Obsborne clarified to Channel 9. “But they can do pieces of it. They can screen for eligibility, things that the food and nutrition worker still has to do in addition to the determination. So we should see the ability to free up those caseworkers that can make those particular determination decisions.”
A spokesperson for Mecklenburg County’s Department of Community Resources, which handles the recertifications, said they feel the greatest impact would be getting automatic recertifications back in place.
“So we are in discussions with USDA about that request … the waiver of the interview process for 50% is as far as...the USDA has authority at this point,” Osborne said.
The county has repeatedly told Channel 9 it is hiring 187 workers to help with this backlog and prepare for Medicaid expansion.
Carter was told the goal was to hire 130 people at a job fair August 19. The county ended up filling only 76 of those positions -- a little over half.
Carter was told they’ll try next month to fill the remaining positions. They have another job fair scheduled for Sept. 23.
(WATCH PREVIOUS: Part 1: Meck Co. unable to keep up with food stamp recertifications)
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