Delays in benefits as new Food Stamp program begins

Published: May. 1, 2013 at 11:32 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2016 at 2:10 AM EDT
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Puneka Howell has had a frustrating couple of months.

"I haven't received any food stamps since February," she said on Wednesday.

Howell says she has been receiving food stamps "for years" but has never seen a delay like she has recently.

"It's been tough."

DSS officials say Puneka is not the only one experiencing delays.

A new computer program called NC FAST is being geared up across North Carolina to handle everything from food stamps to medicaid to work-first program participants.

"It has made a lot of work for us," said Will Wakefield of Caldwell County Department of Social Services. The problem is that to use the program, Caldwell County and every other county in the state must transfer all information from the paper records into the program and there is no easy way to do it. Each packet of personal information must be inputted individually.

"It can average from 30 to 45 minutes per record," said Martha Hedrick of DSS.

When asked how many records needed to go into the system she responded, "9,000 records and that's just Caldwell County."

Officials say they are using all available staff to input the records but it is a process that has taken months and may not be complete until late summer.

"We are working as fast as we can," said Wakefield.

Several other counties also report delays in benefits while the program is geared up. Those who have not received all their benefits will get all that is owed to them once their information gets into the system.

When the inputting is complete, officials believe the system will streamline all areas of benefits for people who need the help. It will also allow people who move to other counties to quickly qualify for benefits there.

Howell says she hopes the officials are right but for now she is struggling to provide for her family.

"I have even used rent money for food," she says. She hopes the start up process ends soon.

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