Here we go again. Once more, federal officials are threatening to pull funds because they say North Carolina health officials are too slow in approving applications for food stamps. Such applications are supposed to be approved within 30 days. But North Carolina still has what a USDA regional administrator, Robin Bailey Jr., says is “chronically poor performance” in getting the applications done on time.
DHHS officials believe through their own evaluations of the program that the job is getting done. Deputy Secretary Sherry Bradsher says that more demand for services and the bumpy rollout of a technology program, NCFAST, to consolidate the delivery of help have complicated things but that the state is getting the job done. She doesn’t believe a lot of people are having problems getting their benefits.
The federal government requires that the state meet its requirement for timeliness in processing benefits 95 percent of the time. The state officials say things are improving, and they will work with the United States Department of Agriculture to get things up to speed.
Complications in the roll-out of NCFAST in 2013 caused tremendous problems in the food stamp program, with thousands of families waiting for benefits for months. That also caused a clash with the federal government.
Doubtless DHHS wants to deliver what people need and are due, but the Republican General Assembly’s disregard for the poor, manifested by a failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and cuts to unemployment benefits, naturally raises suspicions that helping poor families isn’t a high priority for the General Assembly’s leaders or Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor has gone along with lawmakers’ neglect of the working poor and the jobless, and he has failed to improve the leadership at DHHS.
If the federal government has a moral and legal obligation to help people who need it with food assistance, the least the state can do is run the program with the sense of urgency it deserves.