DHHS problems with the food stamps are inexcusable

January 10, 2014 

Things are so out of whack at the state Department of Health and Human Services that what ought to be shocking examples of gross ineptitude aren’t even very shocking anymore.

The latest – now there’s a frightening word when applied to this agency – is that the federal government has crawled all over DHHS for failing to address huge problems with food stamp applications. The U.S. Department of Agriculture may sanction the state if the mess isn’t straightened out.

That’s correction unlikely to happen quickly. The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory with regard to DHHS has been about making messes, not cleaning them up. DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, shown so many times to be in over her head as an administrator, offered no initial comment on the latest fiasco, which the Legislative Black Caucus uncovered when it got a copy of the critical letter from the USDA. The caucus accused DHHS of withholding information and misleading the public.

Basically, the problem means that thousands of households that need food stamps – the program is now called SNAP – aren’t getting them. The USDA said that over 6,000 households have been waiting for over three months. Said the letter: “We have grave concerns for the low-income people of North Carolina who are waiting for assistance.”

McCrory had no immediate comment, and his administration appears lost in the woods in terms of dealing with the problem. One wonders how the governor will try to blame all this on Democrats, but he’ll surely try.

The letter, reported by The News & Observer’s Lynn Bonner, came a couple of months after DHHS officials told legislators they were acting quickly to correct problems with a computer software program, which was related to problems with getting food assistance to people. Either they didn’t know what they were talking about or they were being less than candid.

DHHS issued a statement saying it had told the USDA how it plans to fix the problems and to make sure that applications “are processed in a timely fashion.”

Uh, huh. Unfortunately, the recent history of DHHS doesn’t exactly bolster the public’s ability to believe it will do what it says it will do.

In the last year, since McCrory took office and Wos came in, the agency has had internal turmoil, computer problems and an error that resulted in the Medicaid cards of nearly 50,000 children being mailed to the wrong addresses.

Now this. And in this case, the incompetence of this agency will mean families will go hungry because they can’t get something to which they are entitled.

This is another failure to serve the public. Instead of seeking to blame everyone but those who work for him, the governor ought to own up to his responsibilities and that of an agency within his administration.

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