State Director of DSS apologizes for delays in food stamps - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

State Director of DSS apologizes for delays in food stamps

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Black speaks to Pender's Board of County Commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting. Black speaks to Pender's Board of County Commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting.

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – A state leader has apologized for problems associated with the NC Fast system.

Departments of Social Services in all 100 counties in North Carolina have reported problems with the new statewide technology designed to streamline service delivery for families seeking benefits, according to Wayne Black, State Director of the Division of Social Services.

Black spoke at the Board of Commissioners meeting in Pender County Tuesday night. Last month, the county's DSS posted an apology letter to families waiting on their food stamps.

The state director said some issues with the new system were expected, but not like what has been reported.

"Unfortunately it's a reality whenever you try to do something as enormous as this," he said.

The problem is not with the department's caseworkers, according to Black. He said the training required and overall implementation of NC Fast overwhelmed them.

"This is not because they are slow, this is not because they are not learning it fast enough," said Black. "This is an enormous thing to learn, 82 pages of instructions came about a week or so before."

Black told commissioners that issues with NC Fast are adding to an overall increase in caseload for county workers. The state average has increased by 78% since June 2008. The number in Pender county is 105%.

Who can help

Commissioners received two suggestions for relief. One is to hire temporary employees to help the full-time caseworkers. In New Hanover County, DSS is pulling staff from other areas to help cover the work that's sometimes completed on Saturdays.

Black said some assistance is on the way from the state. Over-the-shoulder support, as he called it, has proved to be better for troubleshooting tech problems than trying to work them out over the phone.

There are about 90 of these experts, with 40 of them already working with county departments. Black said the state will recruit another 161 from all 100 counties to train and return to their own departments.

There would be enough support experts for two in every county, but Black said each department is only guaranteed one. The rest will go where needed and requested.

Pender's caseload is more than 30% above the state average, but Black said a county's need for additional experts will be based on a formula involving caseworkers.

Apology

Black apologized when asked what he has to say to the families who are told their food stamps are delayed because of a new system.

"We're very sorry for that, obviously it's very unfortunate," he said. "I don't know that we realized the enormity of this, what it was going to be at this time."

Food nutrition assistance was just the first service to be entered into the NC Fast system. Black said the state planned to launch the remaining social service programs in a month, but now they'll stagger them as not to overwhelm the caseworkers.

Black said he was thankful to the hard work from all the caseworkers, even the food banks and non-profits that have helped to fill the need.

"If this was easy…"

NC Fast has made it further than any other attempt at a statewide, universal service delivery system, according to Black.

He told commissioners Tuesday that he's seen several attempts in his 37 years of experience at social service departments across the state.

Programs like the Automated Single Application Project and NC CAN floated around in the 90s but prior projects date back to the 70s, according to the state director.

"If this was easy, then all those systems that I mentioned that went down the drain for the last 30 years, we would have done it then," said Black.

In a recent interview, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said NC Fast is working.

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