Needy families in North Carolina will finally get the help they’ve been waiting for. Officials at the state’s Department Health and Human Services have made significant progress in clearing the backlog of food stamp applications that topped out at nearly 35,000 unresolved cases in mid-January. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the state until February 10 to process the applications and renewals that were pending for more than 90 days or categorized as “emergencies.” Federal guidelines demand that officials process food stamp applications within 30 days. On Monday, data showed that only 3,600 backlogged applications remained — less than half of the 7,700 applications that were reportedly unresolved on January 30. Case managers must complete the remaining applications before February 10 or risk losing about $88 million in funding.
Problems with North Carolina’s food stamp system began in July, when the state rolled out NC FAST, a new system that was, ironically, supposed to streamline the process of applying for and receiving social services. But that isn’t the only issue. Liz Scott, assistant human services director in Wake County, one of the areas most affected by the backlog, said that staff in her county can’t keep up with the increasing demand for benefits. “This isn’t an NC FAST issue alone,” Scott told WRAL. “That is one factor in a number of factors that have caused us to be this far behind.” Considering that almost 1.6 million people in the state participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in October 2013, according to the most recent data, hopefully the issues will be resolved so families can continue to get the help they need. In the mean time, ordinary citizens may have to step up to help feed their communities. You can find a list of North Carolina food banks here.