Social Services Today
There are many changes coming to the Department of Social Services. All of the changes that are coming have been planned to provide better, more efficient services to our clients. Some of these changes also impact our ability to help members of our community in the way that they had become accustomed.
As the safety net provider for Durham County, the Department of Social Services takes pride in our assuring that families and individuals who find themselves in a crisis or otherwise in need of our services have timely access to our services and the benefits to which they are entitled.
As many people in our community have become aware, North Carolina has developed -- and partially implemented -- a new computer system called NC FAST (North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology). Durham County Department of Social Services’ integration into this system began in February with our Food and Nutrition Services program.
The upgrade of this computer system that happened in July of this year caused challenges for each county across North Carolina. There were significant problems with processing new applications and recertifications for food stamps benefits; we are still experiencing a backlog of applications.
Prior to the last software upgrade Durham County was able to process applications in advance of the issuance date, however, the recent upgrade in July had several faults and has delayed our ability to process applications by at least 10 days. If this problem were easy to fix, then we would have already done so. We have worked with our state partners to ensure that our training and technology is sufficient. DSS staff members are working long hours and on weekends to reduce our backlog in processing applications and recertifications.
We appreciate the patience and understanding of the community as we understand that access to food is the most basic of human needs. People at the state and local levels are working hard to move these applications and recertifications because we understand the needs and the frustrations of our consumers. There is light at the end of this tunnel; in the end, accessing benefits will be significantly easier.
In addition to NCFAST, the state has mandated that counties follow the basic tenets of the Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) for emergency utility assistance. This program is used to assist families who are experiencing a heating or cooling crisis that adversely impacts health. The state is enforcing a requirement that a member of the household has a documented medical need that makes this service necessary.
As we are adjusting to a new way operating under new administrations at the state level, there will inevitably be additional changes in the local departments of social services. On the horizon there are issues unraveling regarding NC House Bill 392 that requires substance abuse screenings and criminal background checks for public assistance applicants and recipients.
While we are grappling with systems and policy changes the staff members at the county departments of social services are working diligently to ensure that that are trained and able to operate in new systems that are required.
Michael Becketts is the director for the Durham County Department of Social Services.