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Emails: DHHS Downplayed NC Food Stamp Delays

RALEIGH, N.C. Top officials at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for months blamed county officials for long delays in processing food stamp applications, though public records show a glitch with a state computer program was the cause.


Problems with the state's NCFAST computer system began July 15 with a buggy software update, WRAL-TV of Raleigh reported Monday (http://bit.ly/IBrhEF). Almost 70,000 food stamp recipients statewide had benefits delayed or cut off by the time the problems were addressed in late August. Many of those going hungry were families with children.


DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos said last month that counties had failed to properly prepare and train their staffs to use the new software.


"The counties that were prepared, the counties that the county commissioners had authorized more staff for the departments, where the departments were on top of their training, where their staff were working with us - those counties had relatively very little problems," Wos told WRAL News in November. "So it's not the computer glitches."


But the department's own internal assessment report shows only a small minority of counties faced problems with training, staffing and technical infrastructure. As DHHS officials downplayed the widespread technical problems across the state, prompting frustration from social services directors, counties built up a backlog so massive that state workers were forced to tackle tens of thousands of cases themselves.


More than a month after the system update in mid-July, counties began discussing a possible solution to the freezing, crashing and "white screens" they saw when using NC FAST - switch from using the Internet Explorer browser to Google Chrome.


Although county directors and DHHS officials say the issue is now resolved, records show the issues came at a heavy price for case workers and food stamp clients.


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