Needed services upgrade arrives
Vance County residents seeking food and nutrition services from the Department of Social Services will soon have access to web based applications.
The new program, N.C. Families Accessing Services through Technology, is replacing an effectively diminishing system that’s been in place the past 30 years.
Departments statewide will be seeing the switch, which will enable staff to spend more time assisting families who qualify for FNS.
“The old system was antiquated,” said Joan Harlow, food and nutrition supervisor at Vance County DSS. “Clients will be able to log on to their computer, do an application, and email it to us.
“At this point that’s not there yet, but they can go there, print it out, and mail it in.”
Harlow expects the web-based system to be up and running by April.
Vance County has 15,668 citizens provided with FNS, totaling $1,674,270 worth of benefits issued monthly.
“That money goes into the economy of Vance County,” Harlow said. “When you think about it, all the trucks that bring things to those grocery stores, all the people that work in those stores, there’s a lot of people that benefit from these amounts, not just the clients.”
Some backup has been creating issuing benefits to clients due to the detailed and time-consuming process involved with transferring each clients case to the new computer system.
“The frustrating part for me is that we’re not getting to the customers fast enough,” said Linda Fry, director of Vance County DSS. “We have had to send a few people to food banks, and the food banks have been really accommodating.”
In an effort to aid the transfer process, two new part-time employees have been hired, and help was sent by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the system’s transition.
“They realized we were such a large department, we needed more people providing over the shoulder support,” Harlow said. “The reason they call it that is because they are literally sitting there looking over the caseworkers’ shoulder to help them put the information into the system.”
Adult Medicaid, Family and Children’s Medicaid, and the Work First Program will be converted to N.C. FAST later this year.
“The goal is to have it where one worker can take an application for whatever the client needs,” Harlow said. “They’re talking moving toward a universal worker, a worker who knows all the policies and can take an application in whatever they need to.”
Converting FNS to N.C. FAST was a process that started over a year ago with Harlow preparing and planning to put things into the new system.
While it’s been time consuming, tedious and wearisome for those involved, the end result will be beneficial for both worker and client.
“Right now we’re working frantically to get everyone in as they are do,” Harlow said. “In the long run it will be an excellent system for clients and also better for us too.”
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How to apply
Participants may apply for FNS by going online and completing the application online at epass.nc.gov to avoid a wait at DSS. The application can be printed, signed and then brought to DSS, or mailed, or faxed to DSS at (252) 438-5997. The FNS worker will contact the participant to schedule a time for the required interview.