Sept. 18, 2013 — Cabarrus County Department of Human Services (DHS) is implementing two new strategies to reduce a backlog of food stamp applications and recertifications waiting to be entered in the North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology (NCFAST) system. NCFAST is a statewide electronic case management system that consolidates administrative processes.
At its Sept. 16 meeting, the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners approved hiring 10 temporary employees for five weeks to assist with data entry in the County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) Economic Services Division, which handles food stamp applications and cases in Cabarrus.
Beginning Monday, Sept. 23, Cabarrus County will also implement a temporary phone schedule that will affect calls to the DHS Economic Services phone center.
Under the temporary phone policy, when clients call the general DHS phone center (704-920-1400) and select the option for Economic Services, they will be able to reach a phone center worker Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. If the callers to the general DHS phone center select the Economic Services phone option after 2 p.m., they will receive a recorded message. At that time, center staff will redirect their services to processing a backlog of NCFAST applications. Clients may apply for food and nutrition, and Medicaid benefits at the DHS office (1303 S. Cannon Blvd, Kannapolis) Monday-Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Electronic applications may be submitted online at www.epass.nc.gov.
Cabarrus leaders carefully weighed the risks and benefits of the strategies before making the drastic moves.
“We have to look past the challenges of the system and find a way to make it work in Cabarrus,” said Ben Rose, director of Cabarrus County’s Department of Human Services. “The phone policy is not an ideal solution, but in drastic situations we have to use every tool in our arsenal and apply strategies we’d not normally consider. We hope the phone policy, working in conjunction with the support of additional employees, will allow us to get families the help they desperately need.”
Officials plan for the temporary assistance and phone policy to allow workers to process up to 1750 applications over the next five weeks.
Since the NCFAST program launched in Cabarrus seven months ago, the County has worked with state leaders to address issues reported by nearly every Department of Social Services (DSS) agency in N.C. Cabarrus received on-site training and support from the State, worked to troubleshoot a myriad of technical issues, provided staff with advanced training, created flexible schedules for employees and allowed overtime. Just this week, the County sent 1,000 recertifications to the State, which will help enter cases on behalf of the County.
With all the changes, adjustments and trainings, it’s still a struggle for workers to make strides against the backlog. The County estimates there are 1700 applications to enter in the NCFAST system, with an additional 700 received each month. At this point, clients are waiting an average of 10 weeks to receive their benefits.
The County’s move to the temporary phone policy is motivated in part by an upcoming transition of the State’s Medicaid program to NCFAST. On the heels of the food stamp conversion, counties will be required to follow a similar process to transition Medicaid applications and recertifications to the new system. The State is still working to train DSS employees for the switch, which begins Oct. 1.
The temporary phone policy was recommended by the County’s DHS staff after an informal analysis of solutions implemented by other N.C. counties and was approved by the Board of Commissioners at its Aug. 19 meeting. The temporary workforce expansion was originally recommended to the Board of Commissioners as an option in August and was approved by the Board at its Sept. 16 meeting. Cabarrus County leadership will review and determine the effectiveness of the changes and report to the Board of Commissioners at its October meeting.
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