NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – State leaders are defending a program that is leaving many in our area waiting for weeks for food stamps. We have been following this story for months.
Each time we highlight a family having troubles getting by without food stamps, we get dozens of calls and emails into our newsroom by those who are experiencing the same issue.
Thursday, we talked to Ricky Diaz, who is the spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
He said the state is switching over to a paperless program, called NC FAST, which sets up a single, computerized data base for all the benefits someone gets.
Diaz said this is a huge change. The state has rolled out the program in phases and officials are working with county Department of Social Services staffers to implement the program.
Part of the problem is the information for each household that was on paper has to be inputted one at a time into the system.
We asked Diaz what those who are waiting for food stamps should know.
"There is a learning curve for county staff and the state as we work through and help counties overcome any learning curve so our message is that we're working very closely with our county DSS partners that they have the capacity at the local level to handle the case load," he said.
Diaz said the goal is to get away from a paper system that many counties have complained about for years. However, there is what he calls, a "learning curve."
"The system is working and we are supporting counties through their learning curve of using this new system," Diaz said. Our Ashlea Kosikowski asked if it is working, then why are people waiting a month or more?
His answer: "Like I said, the learning curve, we are helping counties make sure that we are supporting counties as they learn to use this system and providing the training and technical support to help our county partners."
In fact, in our 13 minute interview with Diaz, he used the phrase "learning curve" 11 times.
He denied that the state is blaming the counties for the issues, saying the state and counties are partners.
Diaz did go on to say the state would be sending more support staff but didn't give us an indication of how many people or when that would happen.
Diaz said he is open to receiving feedback from citizens who are having problems.
To contact him, call his office at (919) 855-4837 or email him at email@example.com.
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