In an email sent out to legislative assistants on Thursday, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam (R-NC37) has asked the same to volunteer to help the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services complete the work that must be done regarding pending applications and re-certifications for FNS benefits in order to meet a USDA deadline. If the work is not completed by February 10th, the USDA has indicated that they will continue with the next step of the formal process that will result in administrative funding for the FNS program being cut from the NCDHHS. Not only is this an admission that NCDHHS and its director Dr. Aldona Wos are so behind the ball that they cannot catch up- it also raises serious questions of applicant privacy and the accuracy of the work after it is completed.
In his email (see full text below) Rep. Stam asked legislative assistants to join the effort to make up for NCDHHS’ earlier failures exhorting:
This is a WIN-WIN opportunity!!
You will win by gaining first-hand experience with how the Food Nutrition System (FNS) operates and gain valuable experience processing claims.
The BIGGEST winners will be the many people who are waiting to get assistance. By helping them complete their applications, you will expedite them getting the necessary assistance they need to feed their families.
Please thoughtfully consider lending a few hours, or days to help those in dire need.
If you are able to volunteer, you could, with a little training and by signing a confidentiality form, do the following:
1) Contact clients to get missing information needed to process applications/recertifications.
2) If a late application is processed and review is due, contact client and complete information over phone and ask client to come by office and sign the form.
3) Take phone calls, if the volunteers are available during work hours, from clients that would normally go to workers and triage the call. There would need to be a little bit of training on what to ask and what to say to the caller. Workers could get back with the caller after hours once their issue has been reviewed or solved.
4) Go through any “stacks” of paper in worker office to ensure that recertification are identified, pulled and ready to key into NC FAST.
5) Organize any paperwork related to applications/recertifications by date so worker is ready to key information into NC FAST.
6) Call and respond to messages left by clients once worker provides answer.
By signing a simple non-disclosure form and with a quick bit of training, legislative assistants (who have not been vetted for this kind of disclosure) will have access to a bevy of private information about thousands of North Carolina citizens and their children including:
- Social Security numbers of all applicants and their children.
- Employment information for all applicants including their employers, hours, and wages.
- Information on divorce settlements and child support agreements.
- Utility bills with monthly amounts paid.
- Housing cost for rent or mortgages.
- The amount of money in individual bank accounts along with the holding bank’s name and occasionally account numbers.
- How much cash individuals have on hand.
- Vehicle ownership information including the value and type of vehicle.
According to State Senator Earline Parmon (D-Dist32) who serves on the oversight committee for NCDHHS, “It is totally inappropriate for the legislative assistants to be asked to volunteer. There is the privacy issue. There is the fact that they have not received training to complete this work. To ask L.A.s to do the work for another department, that has already spent millions on over-time is ridiculous.”
Sen. Parmon told CCD that the oversight committee had not been told that the situation had grown so dire that an unprecedented move like this would even have to be attempted. “The committee was told by DHHS that all was well. We had no idea that we were in a crisis of this magnitude.”
Attached to the email is another email from Adam Sholar, J.D., the Legislative Counsel for the Director of Government Affairs for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services which reads:
As of January 30, 2014, there were 10,463 untimely applications for FNS pending statewide. Of those, nearly 4,738 are subject to 30-day processing rules and approximately 5,725 are subject to 7-day processing rules. Additionally, as of today, there were 2,055 untimely recertifications pending statewide. As a point of comparison, one day earlier, on January 29, 2014, there were 11,394 untimely applications pending statewide, as well as 2,272 untimely recertifications pending statewide.
Again, according to the USDA, the following should be eliminated by February 10, 2014:
- All untimely applications subject to 7-day processing rules;
- All untimely applications subject to 30-day processing rules that have been pending more than 90 days; and
- All untimely recertifications that have been pending more than 90 days.
According to Sholar, in order to meet this goal, a backlog of approximately 7,512 pending applications and roughly 193 recertifications must be eliminated (numbers are as of January 30, 2014). For this to happen, each application and recertification will need to be “worked by a human being at the county department of social services.”
Sholar’s math is problematic here. According to his numbers, NCDHS is averaging 931 new applications and 217 re-certs completed in a single day. Extrapolating that out to the 6 workdays left before the February 10th deadline, NCDHHS will only complete 6,888 of the 7512 cases required to be cleared. That will leave approximately 624 cases still pending at the deadline, too many to keep the USDA from removing administrative funds.
It should be noted that the backlog required to be cleared by February 10th is not the entirety of the cases in arrears. Even if the state DHHS is able to clear these significantly delayed cases, there will still be about 3000 more applications still waiting to be processed.
On Friday January 24th, when the NCDHHS dumped the story about the USDA’s latest warning in an attempt to bury the news, Forsyth County was behind by 1,708 total cases. According to numbers included with the Stam email, Forsyth County now has 519 outstanding cases. Considering that Forsyth DHHS has cleared 1189 applications in the 4 working days since the last release, it is very likely that they will be able to clear the remaining cases in the 6 days left until the deadline.
Wake County is far more problematic with 3,000 outstanding cases to be settled before the deadline. It is possible that one county’s inability to operate efficiently will provoke the USDA into taking administrative control of the program for the whole state. No wonder their Representative, Mr. Stam, wants to call in the troops.
The backlog is obviously significant, and as Aldona Wos’ office has stated is an “all-hands-on-deck” crisis, the utilization of volunteers, even if they are Legislative Assistants, is problematic. If these LAs are sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting on the next session to start, perhaps that should be dealt with as a separate matter. Nevertheless, asking these employees to volunteer while on the State’s dime for other jobs, and allowing those volunteers to access the most personal of private information, is simply beyond the scope of reason.
This request by Speaker Pro-Tem Stam is the second unprecedented incident following a demand from the Black Legislative Caucus that Governor Pat McCrory call for NCDHHS director Wos’ resignation. At the time the McCrory administration laughed it off and claimed that the request was a political “gimmick.” “This validates concerns that we have had as policy makers,” Sen. Parmon said. “This isn’t about gimmicks, it is about human needs and the inability of this department to do what they are supposed to do.”
This story is still developing. Please check back for updates…