LUMBERTON — A request by the Robeson County Department of Social Services for help in providing food for people who may see a delay in getting food stamps during transistion to a new computer system is being well received, according to the food stamps program administrator.
“So far the response has been great,” Anthony Dial said. “We expect even more help in the future.”
In a Nov. 21 letter to community organizations, churches and local businesses, DSS asked that donations of non-perishable food be made to help food stamp recipients who suffer severe hardship because of a delay in receiving benefits resulting from the county’s conversion to the state-mandated NC FAST program. Dial said that DSS is doing everything possible to see that no one goes without food.
According to Dial, last week Campbell Soup Company in Maxton donated 2,200 pounds of food. He said that Mt. Airy Baptist Church has already donated 1,500 pounds of canned and dry goods, and other area churches, including members of the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, have inquired about how they can help.
Dial said that county employees have donated a large amount of canned and dry goods and the Robeson County Board of Commissioners has put up $10,000 that can be provided through $50 vouchers to those in the most need.
“We have met with our liaisons from Raleigh and we were told to use resources such as food banks, the faith-based community and even industry,” Dial said in the letter to the community. “Our agency does not have storage space to hold dry goods, so we partnered with the Robeson County Church and Community Center.”
Dial said that DSS is putting together a system for how those needing food because of the system conversion can get it from the supply stored at the Robeson County Church and Community Center, which is on West Fifth Street, and the DSS building on N.C. 711.
“If someone comes in here and is in bad need of food because their benefits have been delayed, we are going to see that they get some food,” Dial said.
County DSS officials say they have not seen any major delays in the distribution of food stamps, but stated earlier this month that delays could be up to two or three months.
“There probably will be some delays, especially for those whose eligibility for food stamps is up for review and they did not get their paperwork to us on time,” Dial said. “We won’t know until next month how many clients will see a delay in getting their food stamps.”
Dial said that his department’s 52 case workers, including 15 temporary workers, are working as quickly as possible to convert the county’s 23,000 cases of food stamp recipients to the new program. The program went on line Nov. 12, the date set by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Overall, Dial said, the conversion to the new system is “going great.” The total conversion to the system is expected to take as long as eight months.
“This is a complicated conversion. It’s time consuming,” he said. “There’s been some problems, glitches in the system, such as the system being slow and our computers freezing up for a few minutes at a time. … It’s been frustrating for our staff.”
According to Becky Morrow, DSS director, state officials are working daily with her department to work out any kinks that may arise in the system.
Morrow said recently that counties where the program was first installed reported delays as long as two months, but she called that a “worse-case scenario.”
Through NC FAST, one caseworker will be assigned to each family, making it easier to group benefits that a family receives into a more accessible file, according to Morrow. Conversion of Food and Nutrition case files is only the first phase; other forms of assistance should all be keyed into the system during 2013.
In addition to the 23,000 cases already on file in Robeson County, DSS also has to handle an average of 45 new food and nutrition cases that come in each day. These cases also have to be keyed into the NC FAST system.
Dial said that people should prepare in case their food stamp benefits are temporarily delayed.
“I’m not saying people need to stockpile food, but they should be conservative in how they use their benefits,” he said.
Food stamps are a big part of Robeson County’s economy. The county is projected to issue almost $80 million worth of food stamps this year, an increase of about 85 percent since 2008.