- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s health secretary said Wednesday that she thought it would be possible to erase a backlog of outstanding food stamp applications by the end of the month, a task that just a week ago she described as “extremely difficult.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said she told legislators in a conference call that county and state leaders expect to meet the March 31 deadline set by federal regulators. The backlog now stands at 1,044 cases, down from fewer than 1,700 a week ago, she said.

Wos said that in addition to meeting the deadline, she stressed that the state must ensure services are sustained in the future.

The state met a Feb. 10 deadline from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to handle more than 20,000 applications and renewals pending for more than 90 days. The USDA had threatened the loss of $88 million to continue administering the program unless the deadline was met.

Now the state must resolve applications waiting longer than 30 days and emergency requests for assistance waiting longer than seven days.

North Carolina’s food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has struggled to catch up with applications since last summer. That’s when a new computer system used by county case workers to determine eligibility for government services got a software upgrade.

State officials later blamed increased workloads for the case workers when the NC FAST network also began determining eligibility for Medicaid based on new income thresholds.

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