Food banks overwhelmed by backlog in food stamp system

September 23, 2013 9:00:00 PM PDT
Food banks around the Triangle are scrambling to keep up with the number of families needing emergency help.

A backlog in the state's food stamp program is keeping people from getting their food stamps.

Food stamp recipient Bill Rickrode worked with steel his whole life until he was put on disability because of health concerns. But suddenly his food stamp help stopped.

"Last month I was up for my renewal. I didn't get my food stamps...she said it might be 2 or 3 months, some people it has been 6 months," Rickrode told ABC11.

The state's food stamp program transitioned to an electronic system called NC FAST last October, but a backlog started in July and snowballed. At the end of August, Wake County had a backlog of over 3,000 applications.

So far in September, staff have processed just over 1,500 applications, but thousands of people are still without their food stamp help.

"Now I can only afford to get $50 a week for myself and $50 ain't much when you try to go to the meat counter and get 2 or 3 packs of meat, it's gone," said Rickrode.

Therefore, thousands of local families are turning to food pantries for help.

"With NC FAST we've actually seen an increase in the number of folks coming to our pantry for food because of delays," said Dr. Peter Morris with Urban Ministries.

Now all these families can do is wait for the food stamp program to serve them.

"Food stamp program is supposed to serve individuals within 30 days and by all accounts counties are taking 40-60 days," said Morris.

"I get frustrated when I see on the news those DHS employees that got the big raises; yet, they're the ones that's supposed to be doing the work that's getting our food. Yet, they're getting raises and we ain't getting our food," said Rickrode.

County social services departments are now allowed to send backlogged cases to the NC Department of Social Services, so state workers can enter applications into the NC FAST system. The NC FAST program will start processing Medicaid applications October 1.

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