FOOD & NUTRITION PROGRAM: Food stamp applicants to see longer wait times
SANFORD, Jul 24, 2012 (The Sanford Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The wait time for residents seeking food stamps is expected to temporarily increase as the Food & Nutrition Program with the Lee County Department of Social Services implements a new computer system beginning July 30.
The new system, called NC FAST, will create a more timely, efficient and accurate method of determining eligibility for food stamp benefits once it is fully implemented, said Sabrina Coleman, supervisor for the Food & Nutrition Services Program. However, in the beginning, the change will more than likely cause longer wait times to apply for food stamp benefits and may delay the processing times as employees become accustomed to the changes, she said.
"It is estimated that the interview will change from the original 30-minute interview to approximately one hour and 15 minutes to one hour and a half per interview," Coleman wrote in an email to The Herald. "As you can see, this will extend the wait times significantly. In addition, the processing time frame for application approvals and denials will likely be delayed because the caseworkers will be learning this system and as a result be slower at keying until they are fully used to this new system."
Employees should be able to learn the new system within a month or two, said Angelina Noel, Work First, daycare and fraud supervisor. She said she hopes the wait time will be cut drastically after the employees become familiar with the program.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website, the NC FAST program will benefit families seeking food stamps as a "one-stop shopping" location, and the local social services departments will benefit by having more time to interact with the impacted families while the administrative tasks are automated. It will also allow the state to gather up-to-date information and data.
Food & Nutrition will also begin using new website, www.epass.nc.gov, that will allow potential applicants to learn more about N.C. benefits and allow applicants to complete the Food & Nutrition Services application process online, Coleman said. Once the individual completes the application, it will need to be turned into or mailed to the Department of Social Services office, she said.
"Using this method will prevent the client form having to wait to be interviewed for an extended period of time because they will have an interview appointment and be seen promptly when they in on the scheduled date and time," Coleman wrote.
The current system is outdated and prevents counties from accessing information from other departments across the state, Noel said. Other state eligibility programs will eventually use the same system, she said.
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