elkintribune.com

DSS working out bugs in food stamp program

By Keith Strange Civitas Media

August 23, 2013

DOBSON — While the transition to a new computer system that will handle social services benefits has created headaches locally, officials say Surry County is faring better than other counties across the state.


According to Interim Department of Social Services (DSS) Director Harry Maney, less than two-dozen families out of about 7,000 Surry County households have had their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as Food Stamps, benefits delayed.


“And those families received their benefits within a couple of days,” Maney said.


The issue has been several years in the making.


North Carolina is in the process of transitioning to a new computer program that will allow needy families to access a multitude of benefits from across the DSS spectrum with one interview.


“It’s a multi-year project that began last year with the food stamp program, and now we’re in the process of adding on medical assistance,” Maney said. “When it’s completed, a citizen who has multiple needs will have to interview one time, then all the benefits they’re entitled to will be processed from there.”


But with the transition, the county has been experiencing some delays, he acknowledged.


“We want to offer our apologies,” Maney said. “The new statewide computer system has presented us with a few challenges, but (the) Surry County (DSS) has been anticipating them and has been proactive in taking preventative actions.”


Maney said that in order to get the benefits out to needy families as soon as possible, many DSS workers assigned to the program have been working Saturdays and receiving overtime despite the budget crunch.


“We’ve also prioritized our needs, and ensured that families are receiving at least some of the benefits on a timely basis,” he said. “They might not be exactly the amount they’re entitled to, but they’re getting something when they need it and are receiving the remainder within just a few days.”


The third thing the department has been doing to ensure the benefits are reaching those who need them is akin to asking a co-worker for help.


“We’re consistently surveying and talking with other counties across the state to find out what’s working and what’s not in those counties,” Maney said. “We’re finding that many of the problems we’re facing have already been faced in other counties, and a solution is out there.”


But Maney said Surry County is faring much better than some other localities.


“We probably have less than 25 families who didn’t get them on the dates they were expecting them, but that was corrected just a few days later,” he said. “That’s the number one priority in this department, to get those needed benefits out to families as soon as possible.”


And Maney said he has been pleasantly surprised with the response from the clients.


“We’ve really noticed how patient and tolerant the families in Surry County have been,” he said. “When we explain what we’re going through, they’re willing to wait for a few days, and we really appreciate that.”


A Statewide Problem

Last week state DSS Director Wayne Black said the problems being experienced in Surry County are being experienced throughout all 100 counties in the state.

“The basic thing is there are some issues associated with the roll-out of NCFAST (North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology, the new program),” he said. “There are changes being made to accommodate applications for Medicaid and the Work First program.”

Black said any time a new program is unveiled there are bugs involved.

“It’s created a situation where workers are having to do things differently,” he said. “Statewide, every county has been having issues, and we have people working 24/7 to try to alleviate them.

“There is nothing going on in Surry County that isn’t going on across the state, but once the transition is complete, it will allow us to have one worker provide benefits for all programs at one time with one application,” Black said.

But he noted that workers are trying to take care of the issues.

“We’re using all our resources to assure that we get the people the benefits they need on time, but as with any technological program, there are things that are going to have to be fixed,” Black said.

Reach Keith Strange at kstrange@civitasmedia.com or 719-1929.