Last July, crashed computer systems – designed by consulting firm Accenture, who has been previously fired by at least six other states for computer issues – prevented caseworkers from processing first-time food stamp applications and recertifications for several weeks.
The fix was simple, though. A month later, caseworkers found they only needed to switch from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome. But that didn’t eliminate the backlog. By the end of 2013, nearly 30,000 families waited over a month to receive their benefits; ten thousand of those families waited more than three months.
Forty-four-year-old and single mother of five, Janette Simon, is one of the affected recipients. She is faced with skipping meals and rationing what she has left so the kids “ain’t thinking about eating” while she waits for her $600 monthly benefit.
“That’s what I have to worry about,” says Simon. “I gotta look at these kids with their sad faces and no food.”
North Carolina officials partially blame the food stamp delays on Obamacare. States had until October 1 of last year to update old computer systems to accept Medicaid applications, so North Carolina decided to combine food stamp, Medicaid, and other state programs into a single system. But the updates weren’t properly tested, per Julie Henry, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture pointed out other states didn’t experience “dramatic impacts” from required upgrades.
“These delays are completely unacceptable and a serious failure on the part of North Carolina,” Donald Arnette, the USDA’s regional administrator, wrote in a letter to state officials in December. “We have grave concern for the low-income people of North Carolina who are waiting for the assistance.”
Federal rules require that standard applications be processed within 30 days. Eight months later, caseworkers are still working through the backlog. But if North Carolina doesn’t clear the backlog by Monday, the USDA may cut $88M in funding to the state.