FNS Update: Counties, State Work to Maintain Productivity
Counties across North Carolina continue to make headway toward the February 10 goal for eliminating backlogs of FNS (food stamp), with more than 1,100 additional applications processed on Tuesday. According to DHHS leadership, the challenge this week has been for counties to maintain the momentum gained over the weekend. To assist in that effort, DHHS has deployed more than 290 staff across the state in regional processing centers, in county social services departments and in Raleigh to process claims and provide guidance on the ground as needed.
"Counties made tremendous gains over the weekend when their staff could focus exclusively on processing applications and recertifications," said Wayne Black, director of DHHS Division of Social Services. "Once the doors open to the public, those same case workers must be available to assist clients, so we are working with counties to keep the momentum going."
With the February milestone just days away, DHHS staff has been working closely with counties not only to process cases, but to support management in identifying opportunities for improving work flow.
Cumberland County DSS Director Brenda Jackson said, "We emailed DHHS to voice concerns regarding our ability to meet the USDA deadline due to agency closing for two and a half days for inclement weather. After working over the weekend, productivity was less than satisfactory to meet the deadline and the need for State assistance was confirmed with NC DHHS who quickly responded. On Monday afternoon we received a visit from DHHS Deputy Secretary Sherry Bradsher, who also had concerns about our output; this meeting was instrumental in helping us brainstorm on how to improve productivity. Additional State assistance was deployed to us today."
As a county-administered system, local social services agencies are responsible for processing applications for FNS as well as Medicaid and other eligibility programs. With the transition to NC FAST and a paperless system, counties are adjusting business practices to take full advantage of the new capability.
"Since 2002, our FNS caseload has quadrupled, but we have not added staff to meet the demand," said Joe Raymond, director of Forsyth County Social Services. "The data we are now getting through NC FAST is helping us prioritize our work and increase productivity."
County and state staff will continue their work through the remainder of the week and into the weekend to resolve outstanding cases that remain to meet the USDA requirements for the February 10 deadline.
NC FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology) is a tool that will improve the way social services are administered in North Carolina, enabling county case workers to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time assisting families. By the end of the planned 5-year rollout of the system, NC FAST will replace 19 legacy systems used to deliver social service benefits, including FNS (food stamps), Medicaid, Work First and child care services. NC FAST will improve the state's 100 county social service agencies' ability to track cases, share information and coordinate services to provide more efficient and effective customer service.