Food stamp recipients, pantries struggle due to problems with NCFAST

Some on food stamp are struggling to make ends meet with the little food for their family.
January 10, 2014 4:09:55 PM PST
Gov. Pat McCrory is brushing off renewed calls to fire the head of the Health and Human Services.

The legislative black caucus staged a rally Friday in Raleigh and across the state. They want the resignation of DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos after a number of problems at the department.

The latest involves the USDA. The federal agency just threatened to pull funding for food stamps in North Carolina because of delays.

Meanwhile, caught in the middle of the political tug of war are thousands of North Carolinians just wanting to get their hands on food stamps. ABC11 continues to receive calls and emails from families who have exhausted all other options.

We first met single mom Kelly Swanson last year. She waited months to get recertified for food benefits. Now, she's up for renewal again, and it's another round of the waiting game.

"I'm going through a three month wait for food stamps," said Swanson. "I had to take money from bills. It's hard, so hard and frustrating."

Swanson finally received her food benefits after waiting more than five months last year, but when December rolled around, Swanson was due to reapply again.

Now, she's struggling to make ends meet with the little food she has for her and her two young daughters.

"My kid's crying on the way here. She's hungry," said Swanson. "I got a little bit, but if I give it to you all now, you know, it's hard."

Swanson is among tens of thousands of people forced to go months without benefits due to the backlog of cases with the new NCFAST system, and it's taking a toll on local food pantries. They are packed and overwhelmed with clients looking for help.

"It was the perfect storm of unemployment benefits being cut, the food stamp database problems," said Terry Foley, the director of Catholic Parish Outreach. "So, we just started having record numbers ever since July 1."

Catholic Parish Outreach is the Triangle's largest food pantry. It's cutting back on the amount of groceries it hands out from a week's worth to just days worth.

Relying heavily on donations, the pantry now serves more than 11,000 people a month and that number is creeping up.

"I'm concerned but not worried," said Foley. "I just have to have faith that we'll get the supplies in that we need to provide people with food, even if we have to cut back again."

If the USDA pulls funding, it could cause the state's 1.7 million food stamp recipients to go hungry.

ABC11 reached out to Wake County Human Services to get an update on the backlog and the current wait time, but did not get a call back.

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