State Politics

NC gets federal help with food stamp employment program

North Carolina is one of 10 states being offered federal help to get job training and work for more food stamp recipients.

The state will work with the Seattle Jobs Initiative, a program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized as innovative and effective.

The goal of such employment and training projects, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is to get adults to a point where they no longer need help from the food stamp program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

States “will learn best practices, get technical assistance and learn how they can make more robust their efforts to find jobs” for food stamp recipients, Vilsack said in an interview. “This is the right way to reduce SNAP rolls, not some artificial process.”

Last year, the state used only about a third of the federal money allocated for employment and training, Vilsack said, leaving more than $2 million unspent. Some of the federal funds must be matched by the state.

Employment and training programs connected to the food stamp program are voluntary, and only nine counties – including Durham, Orange and Johnston – have them, according to state Department of Health and Human Services officials.

Wayne Black, DHHS director of social services, said counties have had a full load with Medicaid applications, working to reduce food stamp application backlogs, and other tasks.

“It is a matter of all the other pressures and workload,” he said. Counties are ready to move from “crisis management” to “a more proactive approach to employment.”

One of the goals in working with the Seattle Jobs Initiative is to double the counties with employment and training programs, said David Locklear, DHHS chief of economic and family services.

The Seattle program works with employers and others to raise the money to match the federal funds, Locklear said. “They have a huge collaboration with community partners.”

As part of the project, DHHS has developed a team that includes community colleges, the state Department of Commerce program for job seekers, and county social service agencies that already have jobs programs, Locklear said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner