The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is trying to clear a backlog dealing with food stamps. Millions of federal dollars are on the line, the USDA is threatening to cut funding if DHHS fails to alleviate the problems causing the delays.
DHHS says it is confident the state will meet the Monday deadline set by the USDA, but hundreds of backlogged cases remain across the state, and the cost of employee overtime is adding up.
"I'm desperate. I've been checking it every day," said food stamp recipient Cheryl Whitfield.
Whitfield is among the thousands whose food stamp applications became backlogged with the rollout of the state's NC Fast program. Her January benefits finally came Thursday after she emailed ABC11. Yet, food stamps from February, promised by Friday, never came.
"Somebody needs to take control that is better equipped to make sure that all these people that did not have food don't ever go through this again," Whitfield said.
Wake County and state workers have been working around the clock to catch up. DHHS says backlogged cases have dropped more than 90 percent since the end of January.
However, with hundreds of cases remaining, the state has until Monday to fix the problem entirely or risk losing tens of millions of dollars in USDA funding.
"We are working day and night to meet that deadline. We've learned a lot in this process about state supervision and county administration," said State Social Services Director Wayne Black.
In Wake County, about 178 cases were pending as of Friday morning. In Cumberland County, it was 106, and in Durham County, just 10 remained at the start of business.
ABC11 has learned Wake County did not meet its pledge to finish Friday, but expects to do so over the weekend.
As for what it costs counties in employee overtime to catch up, Durham has spent around $30,000 in the past month alone. Numbers were not available for Wake County or Cumberland County.
"We have not gotten our final bill on this but we're definitely paying a lot of overtime," said Wake County Commissioner Phil Matthews.
The cases being resolved right now are just the ones the USDA considers the most outdated, there are still hundreds of others that are weeks, even months old, that are also still pending. Wake County leaders will likely green light a plan later this month to add staff to the county's struggling social services division.
As of Saturday morning, DHHS said state and county workers had less than 200 food stamp cases remaining to be processed statewide to meet Monday's deadline.
"As I have said before, the state and counties have put all hands on deck to get this work done," said Black. "The cases that remain to be processed at this point are some of the most challenging. Our county partners are making every effort to reach out to individuals, including making home visits, to ensure that we are getting benefits to families who need them."
Black said he is optimistic that the state will satisfy the USDA's requirements by Monday and is well positioned to achieve compliance with federal processing timelines by the end of March.