State glitch problematic for some on public assistance

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2013 12:03 pm

With three young and growing daughters, single mother Bettie Talbert needs a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator just to carry her through a few days’ worth of three squares.

Talbert said she collects just $50 per month from the father responsible for two of the children and nothing from the father of the other one. The money represents her entire income, as reflected in a recent monthly Statesville Housing Authority rent bill she presented to the R&L.

“I’m not here spending money all over the place,” Talbert said. “I’m just trying to feed my kids.”

In such dire financial straits, Talbert is almost entirely reliant on federal and state assistance programs for the nutritional sustenance of her brood, ages 7, 3 and 11 months.

Talbert, who lives on Adams Street in South Statesville, is most dependent on the program known officially as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is still largely referred to by its original name of Food Stamps.

But even before the program changed names in 2008, the term “food stamps” had become something of a misnomer. Since the late 1990s, enrollees in the program have not used actual food stamps or coupons but rather a type of debit card.

Talbert had never encountered any previous problems during her time in the program and so when she went grocery shopping last Thursday morning, she just assumed the funds needed to cover her $235 purchase would be in her account.

“But they told me I only had 17 cents in there,” Talbert said. “I was shocked.”

So she headed to the Iredell County Department of Social Services to find out what had gone awry with her card.

“And I got there really early, even before the office was open,” she said. “And there were already four other people there waiting with the same problem.”

What all of them heard was that the delays in the SNAP deposits were caused by start-up glitches in a state program with the ironic acronym, NC FAST (for North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology).

That is to say that a program designed to expedite these types of matters is actually slowing it down for some.

“With any new system, there is going to be learning curves and some glitches,” said Iredell DSS Income Maintenance Administrator Linda Bledsoe. “And we do share the concerns of the people we serve.”

Bledsoe said NC FAST is designed with a “holistic” approach to serving families in need. She explained that the new system will allow the cases of those receiving assistance through more than one program to be handled by one worker rather than one worker for each program.

DSS Director Yvette Smith said most of those who experienced delays to their SNAP benefits were those who were going through a recertification process during the transfer to NC FAST. Smith said those receiving the benefits are required to recertify every six months and some of the problems were related to some clients not having the proper documentation with them at the time of the recertification.

Talbert said that she has recertified recently but that she had all the documentation she was required to bring — such as income information and proof of residency.

Talbert said she was not angered by the ordeal so much as concerned.

“I think if they would have just let me know there was going to be delays, maybe I could have done something before I got to Food Lion with a full cart of groceries,” she said.

Bledsoe said everything related to the delay should corrected by mid-July and that those qualified for benefits will receive them by then.

In September, Medicaid and North Carolina’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, called Work First, will become part of NC FAST in Iredell County. But Bledsoe and Smith said that the transition involving these programs should be smoother.

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