Social Services Today

Changes to the food stamps program
Feb. 02, 2013 @ 11:53 AM

The mission of the Durham County Department of Social Services is to partner with families and communities in achieving well-being through prosperity, permanency, safety and support.  As the director it is an honor to work with a team of dedicated employees and to collaborate with community partners to realize our mission. DCDSS is grateful to The Herald-Sun for being one of those partners and for providing DSS with this monthly column so that we can share information that is important to the agency and the community.

DCDSS offers a number of services to the community. One of the safety net  programs we offer is the Food and Nutrition Services Program that processes applications for the food stamps benefit.  This program offers qualified families access to resources to purchase food.  

Two changes are on the horizon for this program area.   First, the biggest change to the Food and Nutrition Services in nearly 30 years is underway: The State of North Carolina is modernizing its computer system and the way in which we process applications; the new computer system is called NC FAST.

The move from the old computer system to NC FAST has been met with challenges across North Carolina where some applicants have not received their benefits when expected, clients have not been able to receive updates on their application, and have found it difficult to reach their caseworker.   Here in Durham, we are working hard to ensure staff members have the resources and training needed to address these challenges.  

During the transition, we are doing all we can to meet the demand of the community so that clients do not see a delay in benefits.  However, it is important that families who apply for benefits submit a complete and sign the application, attach the required documents and turn the application in on time.  If these things are not done, it is likely that applications will take longer to process.

The other exciting change we have implemented in Food and Nutrition Services is largely eliminating the requirement for an interview or meeting to apply or recertify for benefits.  In early October 2012 we stopped requiring food stamps applicants to come to our offices for an interview. Instead, individuals who wish to apply or recertify for food stamps can mail, fax or drop off their applications to either of our offices; soon applications will be able to be completed and submitted on-line at www.epassnc.gov.      

If after an application has been received additional information is needed, a staff person will contact the family by phone and/or mail.  DSS is committed to processing applications in a timely manner. however, delays in processing an application can happen when they are incomplete, unsigned or lacking the required supporting documents. We encourage all applicants to check their materials twice before sending them in.

Many who are familiar with the interview process have questions and this is prompting more phone calls to our office to check on the status of applications. This may mean a longer wait time to speak to a caseworker.  I invite those who are concerned about the status of their application to remember that completed applications will be processed on time and that we will contact you by phone or mail if there are problems with your application.

DCDSS is working hard to ensure that the impact of these changes is manageable for our clients.  For people who need help completing the application a small unit of staff is available daily to assist you; making an appointment is preferred. 

The Department of Social Services can be reached by calling 919-560-8000.  

Michael A Becketts is the director of the Durham County Department of Social Services