Greensboro, NC -- A new software program installed on Guilford County computers was intended to streamline and improve the food stamp application process. While that new program has resulted in some improvements, it has also created headaches for some families in need of food.
Guilford County is one of four pilot counties testing the new computer software before it gets rolled out statewide by the end of the year. When the North Carolina Division of Social Services realized there were problems adapting the new program, it sent 20 staff members to Guilford County to get the system to work. Local staff members in Guilford County have worked overtime and weekends to get the system running smoothly.
Despite all that effort, about 40 families still can't buy food. The food pantry remains their best option.
News 2 pressed our local officials for answers for weeks, but they didn't design this new system or ask for it. So, News 2 went to the Director of the North Carolina Division of Social Services, Sherry Bradsher, and asked when she realized there was a problem and what she did to fix it.
"Once, within several days of going live, we realized that productivity was not where it needed to be, we turned the old system back on so workers have the option of working in the old system or the new system," Bradsher said. "When we chose our pilots, (we did) try to choose those counties that did have the infrastructure to support some of the growing pains that we knew we were going to experience."
To add to the confusion, local food banks didn't realize the county adopted a new system. As a result, food banks told us they got swamped. News 2 got involved. You got involved. Our News 2 emergency food drive collected about two tons of food.
Bradsher made a point to say the community made a difference.
"I know patience when you're hungry is not an appropriate two things to put together. So, we do appreciate the community's response. We are processing some of those cases here at the state level so that we can sort of quote untangle the web for those particular cases," Bradsher said.
At this point, the solution is still for families to go to the food bank, and for state workers to continue to improve the program.
Joseph Stinney spent his Tuesday afternoon at Open Door Ministries in High Point. Workers there helped him get some food for his wife and 8-week-old baby. For more than two of the weeks his new daughter has been at home, his food stamp card hasn't been working. The balance is at zero, and so is his patience.
"The system is so messed up, I really don't know what to do right now," Stinney said.
But he's doing the right thing by getting help from programs like Open Doors'. And it's having a life-changing effect on him and his wife.
"It makes me feel so wonderful, because I can go home and open the door and say, 'Baby, I got food,'" Stinney said.
All counties will have this new program in the next six months.
"The system they're currently using is 30 plus years old. It is old technology. It's written in an old language and it's very difficult to find people who can even manage the current system," Bradsher said.
Once this new program is up and running full-speed, the state says the system will streamline how people apply and get assistance from food to clothes to childcare...which will save time and money. This is just the first step in a complete overhaul of the way people receive benefits in North Carolina.
To learn more about the NC FAST program and how everything will eventually work, visit these links:
WFMY News 2