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NC agency says USDA confirms it's met requirement

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Federal regulators said Friday they're satisfied for now with North Carolina's efforts to eliminate a large backlog of food stamp applications that threatened funding for the state to continue administering the program.
    
The U.S. Department of Agriculture told the state Department of Health and Human Services it appeared DHHS had "significantly corrected" the problems singled out in letters in December and January by USDA's Food and Nutrition Services office.
    
USDA last month gave state officials a Feb. 10 deadline to get rid of a backlog of more than 20,000 applications and renewals that were pending for more than 90 days, or face the potential loss of $88 million. State and county social services workers had whittled the number down to 25 by the deadline, according to the state department.
    
North Carolina "has made significant strides in providing service" to households" that were awaiting food stamp benefits, the letter from USDA regional administrator Robin Bailey said.
    
The state next must eliminate 1,250 applications that have been waiting longer than 30 days by March 31. Bailey's letter said Food and Nutrition Services anticipates that backlog will be resolved well before the deadline, given the state's progress.
    
"The quick resolution of this backlog will position the state to ensure that effective measures are in place for counties to process" backlogs on time and prevent future backlogs, Bailey added.
    
DHHS Deputy Secretary Sherry Bradsher said in a news release that department officials "will continue to work with our county partners to satisfy federal processing requirements. It has always been our goal to provide quality services and timely benefits to the families we serve."
    
DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos told legislators this week more than 290 state workers traveled to regional processing centers or county offices to help with the backlog. Counties also hired temporary workers. Department leaders previously attributed the backlog to increased responsibilities for county case workers as an upgraded computer system used by county offices also began determining eligibility for Medicaid based on new income thresholds.
    
The application delays led to increase demands at food banks and increased complaints from constituents of General Assembly members.

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