Don’t believe me? At its worst, North Carolina’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) had a backlog of 70,000 cases. If each of those 70,000 families expected to receive the SNAP state average of $121/month and then waited five months for their benefits, those families would spend more than the estimated $42 million.
This number doesn’t even account for the tens of thousands of cases that the Department of Health and Human Services said were duplicates — folks who applied and reapplied, wondering why they didn’t receive the 30-day reply promised on the state’s nutrition website. Then again, the $42 million calculation also mistakenly assumes that each application represents a single person. In reality, most applicants feed children, grandparents, and other extended family members.
There’s really no way to know how many dollars came out of family pockets during the six-plus months that state SNAP applications were allowed to accumulate. In any case, those six months took a toll beyond dollars.
When a North Carolina mom reached out in October, asking for help to feed her children through the holiday season, as a state we betrayed her trust. It took a threat from the Federal Department of Agriculture before our state government even read her application. That mother did not come to us lightly, or because she had a surfeit of options. She knows her babies’ bellies aren’t full and she needs our support to fill them.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, Aldona Wos, oversaw both the backlog and its reconciliation. She says it took a “Herculean effort” involving hundreds of hours of overtime and cooperation from multiple state agencies working weekends and holidays to sort through the applications. Had North Carolina failed to meet the Department of Agriculture’s February 10th deadline, it faced losing more than $88 million in federal funds that support the state’s SNAP program.
State officials said problems with a new computer system caused a number of the problems, which were compounded by agencies’ need to focus on Affordable Care Act changes and changes to the state Medicaid processing system. Although officials had advance notice of the changes, they said they did not anticipate the enormous toll the programs would take on their ability to process new applications.
More than one thousand families are still waiting to hear back from their county departments of social service, wondering if they’ll get the call that delivers them from hunger. It is essential that these cases are prioritized, and that our state not allow another family to wait for food services, medical services, or shelter. All North Carolinians deserve to feel safe and secure. That means anticipating their needs and addressing them as they occur — not hiding behind bureaucracy or requiring a threat from the federal government before finally getting to work.