Food need up in county

Published 8:01 pm Monday, August 26, 2013

Across the state, people are going hungry because of a glitch in software. A new system designed to streamline government services, NC FAST, has a bug — one that prevents recipients of food and nutritional services assistance from reenlisting in the program.

Since NC FAST was launched at the end of last year, Social Services employees statewide have been working overtime to manually recertify families for food stamps. The glitch does not apply to new clients; it’s only those signing up for benefits again.

Beaufort County is no exception. Delays have been experienced since the system went live last year, but Beaufort County delays average about a week for those affected, according to Amy Alligood, income maintenance supervisor three with Beaufort County DSS. Families elsewhere haven’t been so lucky — some recipients in other counties have been waiting months for the benefits they’ve temporarily lost.

“We have been working overtime since December to try to get as many clients keyed in as fast as we possibly can,” said Amy Alligood, a supervisor with Beaufort County DSS. “We’ve seen more delays in the past month, but we haven’t seen delays like some other counties have seen.”

Alligood credits the 12 DSS employees working to manually correct the system with keeping the glitch’s impact minimal.

“We’ve been very fortunate with our workers working overtime,” Alligood said.

DSS has created safety nets to combat the problem for those trying to reenlist with the program, teaming up with other agencies to help families trying to get food and keeping their own onsite closet stocked.

“We don’t want anybody to go away hungry and we certainly don’t want families to go hungry because of a glitch in the system,” Alligood said.

To assist in keeping food stocks up, some county organizations have begun their own food drives. Susan Benning, director of BHM Library, said the library signed on to collect food for DSS until November.

“So far, we’ve collected three boxes of food here,” Benning said. “We’re a convenient place to drop items off.”

At Eagle’s Wings, Director Sally Love said the food pantry has seen a jump in clients in the past two months.

“For the last two weeks, we’ve had 159 families, a much higher number than normal,” Love said. “We’re seeing a lot of people we’ve never seen before.”

Love attributes the rise to the combination of unemployment benefits running out for many North Carolinians, along with the NC FAST-caused delays. From 2011 to 2012, Eagle’s Wings saw a 40 percent increase in customers.

“We’re up 10 percent on top of that by July,” Love said. “It’s definitely a problem and I don’t know that there’s a solution. But we keep accepting donations and giving out food. We’re like a duck paddling as fast as it can.”