DSS faces more tech changes

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 01:08 PM

Just as they are about to get total control of a new state computerized benefits processing system, county social workers soon will have to deal with another learning curve.

North Carolina is one of six states, including South Carolina, receiving three-year Work Support Strategies grants support to help streamline social services by 2015. It started with food stamp processing, for which Guilford County was a pilot county. Next will be Medicaid processing, which is scheduled to shift to the new Families Accessing Services through Technology, or NCFAST, system July 1.
The County Department of Social Services started the new computer software last May, and for months used both the old and new systems. Most of the work has been shifted to the new system. The shift caused case backlogs through the summer and fall. Transferring the information from the old system to the new one also has taken longer than expected.
“We are working now on the new system without a net,” Steve Hayes, assistant DSS director, told the Guilford County DSS Board recently.
The new system allows one-step processing for most benefits from food stamps to children’s health insurance.  All counties will be on NCFAST by March.
“We are processing more benefits now with the new system than before with the old system,” Hayes said.
Many of the backlogs recently have resulted from computer glitches at the state level. Once client information gets into the new system, there are few problems. “The system can go down for three to four hours at a time. If that is on a Friday, you can’t pay overtime to staff and clients get mad if they have to wait,” said DSS Director Robert Williams.
Williams estimated that as few as 3 percent of cases may get delayed.
Meanwhile, the Medicaid processing changes will start in October. Guilford is not a pilot for the shift.
“We should have time to train the staff,” Hayes said.
“We are about half way across the river now with this change,” Williams said. “When we get to the other side of the river, this will be a great change for us and the clients.”

Social services

Food stamps: Guilford County serves about 45,000 households each month for food stamps, valued at $12 million.

Medicaid: In December, county social workers took 1,800 applications, down 7 percent.