Possible food stamp loss shows system faults

Possible food stamp loss shows system faults

Kevin Griffin

North Carolina is due to lose $88 million in federal money for food stamps by March because of what the United Stated Department of Agriculture referred to as “unacceptable delays” in application processing, according to the News & Observer.

The potential loss of food stamps reveals some of the problems the state is having with new computer systems and the management of resources.

Originally, the problem was caused by a faulty software update in the new NC FAST system used for processing food stamp applications.

This created a pile up of 23,000 backlogged applications as of Jan. 21, with 8,327 of those waiting for more than three months, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What is in order is a re-evaluation of these computer programs to see why so much has gone wrong and what can be done in the future to prevent situations like the one we are now facing.

Additionally, the state should find ways to better manage the use of resources so that burdens like those imposed by the new Medicaid requirements can be handled in a more efficient manner.

Behind those backlogged applications are people who could lose benefits over the problem, and the cause of this misfortune seems to be management issues within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Workers with the agency have complained that they were slowed down because of the need to deal with changes in Medicaid that were issued in late 2013. A major component of the problem, of course, is the new NC FAST Software, which has helped contribute to the backlog.

By no means is this the only problem with computer systems that the state has seen recently. In the past year, computer errors have caused payment issues with the Medicaid system, the improper mailing of children’s

Medicaid cards and the delay of students’ report cards, according to the News & Observer.

WNCN reported in September 2013 that Accenture, the company assigned to help fix NC FAST, also had issues, including breach of contract and finishing projects long past deadline.

All systems can have problems, but this is one that appears to be avoidable, and that might have a serious impact on North Carolina residents.

If the situation is not remedied soon, people across the state will suffer, including the 4,032 residents of Watauga County who rely on food stamps according to Slate.com’s food stamp tracker.

I hope we will be able to avert the consequence of losing food stamps, but the state should use this experience in the future to avoid the type of system problems that have lead to this situation.

Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.