NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – More local families are struggling just to find their next meal, and because the New Hanover County Department of Social Services is still dealing with issues stemming from a new computer software system called NC-FAST, many are reporting a delay in receiving food stamps. In turn, there's been an influx of visitors at food banks.
Many people who have been approved for food stamps say that they're not received them in the mail. The DSS confirms that several cases are behind schedule. The problem is, the updates for the new technology require days worth of training.
With the high volume of people not receiving their food stamps, many local food banks have been busy. We spoke to officials at several different sites who all say they have seen a significant increase in food requests over the last few weeks.
The First Fruit Ministries in Wilmington has been serving the hungry for nearly 15 years. But lately, they've been feeding more people than usual. The line was wrapped around the door when we stopped by on Wednesday morning. With more people coming in, the founder of the ministry, Rick Stoker says they're running out of food.
"We're concerned about some future stuff coming," said Stoker. "We're trying to gear up for it. We have a guy coming today to look about increasing our cooler space and we're going to try to stay a step ahead."
Bill Leek knows firsthand about the problems with NC-FAST -- he was approved for food stamps over a month ago, but he's still checking his mailbox every day.
"I just wish they had another system where you can get immediate help if you're accepted," said Leek. "When you apply for stamps, you're in need that day, not two weeks later when they finally send the card."
While he's been waiting, the First Fruit Ministries has lent a helping hand – providing him and his wife with enough food to get by.
"My biggest concern is making sure that nobody goes hungry," said Stoker.
But Stoker says a lot of the food they have might not be around very long, unless the state can get caught up on their computer software problems.
"On the state level, I think this needs to be a real watchdog," said Stoker. "It's a real concern about getting things done and we just hope they'll come up with a good solution."
After a week and a half, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services contacted us back with answers for how they plan to fix the issues.
A spokesperson for the NC-FAST system says that DSS Directors from across the state were asking for a program like this for years. According to Ricky Diaz, most directors were overwhelmed by paperwork in the past.
Diaz says the new computer software has been a big change for DSS operators. He says the state is working with counties to make sure they have the bandwidth and capacity to handle the increased work loads.
In some counties, the DSS has even hired more employees. For other counties, the state will offer technical support and will send a representative to those counties for assistance if necessary.
Diaz says this process is a learning curve and they are working hand in hand with counties to "pro-actively provide support for them."
Diaz says they are working to make sure everyone who was approved for food stamps receives their cards quickly. However, he says this process takes place on a county by county basis.
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