Tuesday, February 4, 2014

NC FAST subsiding

Seven months in, the enormous, unconscionable backlog in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications and recertifications finally appears to be subsiding.

WRAL reports the good news.
Under the gun of a federal ultimatum, state and county health officials cut a longstanding backlog of food stamp cases nearly in half over the weekend.

Data released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Monday show about 3,600 cases remain for workers to process before a Feb. 10 deadline, down from about 7,700 on Jan. 30. Case managers must complete these applications before next week or risk losing about $88 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An "all-hands-on-deck" approach by North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos deserves credit for cutting the backlog.

The backlog has not been eliminated. The NC DHHS has prioritized the food assistance cases that would trigger a suspension of federal SNAP administrative funds--emergency cases that should have originally received expedited 7-day processing and cases that were delayed by three months or more. Thousands of other cases with one- and two-month delays remain and will remain--that's still thousands too many, especially considering that the new computer system that triggered this has been operating for seven months.

The good news itself also has an infuriating element: the NC DHHS was able to cut almost half of the backlog in a single weekend.

For months, Sec. Wos and the NC DHHS have engaged in a public-relations campaign in which they repeatedly downplayed the calamity and then turned to denigrating county case workers, previous administrations, health care reform, the media, and others when much of the problem--and the substantial hardship it was inflicting--could be solved with a few-day surge in workers.

Not only did it take a federal ultimatum to get Sec. Wos to feel any special urgency about actually dealing with a backlog that was keeping food from desperate families, but a reasonable-cost solution to that suffering appears to have been in-hand all along.

That's callousness of the first order.