Guilford County, N.C. - Few would argue the transition to a new food stamp system in Guilford County wasn't rocky. But, now the Guilford County Department of Social Services says the system is working well.
Back in April, before the transition, there were 44,650 households on food stamps in Guilford County. They received $11,642,716 in benefits. In August 2012, there were 45,252 households on food stamps. Those families received more than $12 million in benefits, an all-time record for the county.
The numbers show people are getting their benefits. However, the switch to the new software caused some families to fall through the cracks, like Ashunti Lattimore. "We're struggling. We have to find a way to get food every day. Every day. It's hard because I go to school and I work," Lattimore said. "I have no food. All the money I work for that I'm supposed to pay my bills with and get my medicine with, I can't do that because I have to spend it on food."
Lattimore says her food stamps are two months late. But, Department of Social Services Manager Steve Hayes says he's hearing fewer and fewer stories like Lattimore's.
"NCFAST as a system is working as it's designed to work now. Once we manually key your information into the new system, what we've found is people continue to get their benefits without problems from that point...The delays we have now are us learning the system and us keying the old information into the new system. As I said in the beginning, this is a process. It will take us a whole year to go through this. We've made tremendous strides from where we were in May," Hayes said.
The goal of the new system is to streamline aid to people who need financial help. In the past, they often had to meet with multiple workers, fill out multiple applications and tell their story over and over again. With this new system, they'll share their story once and speak to one person. The conversation will let them know about all of the aid they are eligible to receive.
"It will have savings for the county, savings for the state and save on time for our clients. It's an integrated case module we're moving toward where you can have one worker to help you with all your economic needs," Hayes said. "When the worker takes your information, they are taking all of your information that is necessary to process your food nutrition services, your Medicaid, your child daycare benefits, and also your Work First benefits."
In addition, the new system checks with sixteen others to make sure no one gets benefits they should not receive. In the past, communication between systems did not always happen.
Now, the system is smarter. For example, if someone calls and says they need food stamps because they lost their job, that could potentially trigger the state to decrease or cut daycare benefits. Also, there were cases of double-dipping, where two parents living separately, received duplicate benefits for the same child. The new system should help prevent those situations from happening again.
The state reports it has learned from the problems that occurred in Guilford County and has used those lessons to make the transition process in other counties move along more smoothly.