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Food stamp delays could get worse

September 27, 2013 4:08:53 PM PDT
Changes are coming to the food assistance program in hopes of speeding up what has been a long process for people all across the state.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it is bringing in more bodies to help minimize backlog in applications. Meanwhile, they say they could be thrown a curve ball next week that could cause even more delays.

Wake County's backlog is among the worst in the state. The agency typically receives 4,000-5,000 recertification requests and 2,500-3,000 new applications each month. Workers are currently behind nearly 3,000 cases. The agency currently handles a caseload of about 40,000.

"We have difficulty answering all the calls that come in. One of the things that does is create more traffic of people coming in when they can't get through to their case manager. And that's an issue that we've been dealing with because we really want the case managers to focus on processing the cases so clients receive benefits," said Liz Scott with Wake County Human Services.

To help alleviate that problem, Wake County Human Services hired 40 temporary workers. Other employees are working overtime to try and catch up. The agency even installed a new self-service center for people to apply online instead of waiting in line to talk to a case worker.

Now, a new concern is looming.

Medicaid enrollment goes live on the N.C. Fast system Tuesday, which could create an even bigger mess and more delays.  

"We are concerned about the volume we may see. We aren't exactly sure what we will see on October 1st," Scott said.

Wake County is in the process of hiring 11 more workers to handle the Medicaid rollout next week. In preparation, Ricky Diaz at N.C. DHHS says they have been training more than 7,000 case workers across the state since June.

Meanwhile, Wake County is seeking help from the state office in processing food assistance applications. They plan to send 2,000 cases to the N.C. DHHS next week.

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