DSS: NC FAST update moving along

Dec. 11, 2012 @ 07:05 AM

SPINDALE — A program implementation that was expected to make wait times and application processes longer, has gone smoother than expected.

The Rutherford County Department of Social Services (DSS) is in the midst of implementing the statewide North Carolina Families Accessing Services Through Technology, or NC FAST, program that is a web-based program used to determine eligibility for benefits handled by DSS.

Initially, DSS officials expected wait times for benefit processing to increase from the standard 30 minutes to 90 minutes because of the implementation.

"Right now, it is relatively going well," said Candy Bridges, DSS income maintenance administrator. "We have not had the delays in benefits and we have been able to meet our deadlines."

The county will implement the Food and Nutrition portion of the program, meaning that people receiving those benefits will have to have their information input into the NC FAST system upon time for re-certification.

There are currently 7,000 households in Rutherford County that take part in the Food and Nutrition program and, during re-certification, the information will have to be put into the system manually, causing the longer interview process.

Bridges said that the county is currently only inputing new applications into the system. It will not be until the hard launch date of Jan. 22, 2013 that new and existing applications will have to placed into the new system.

"When we do reviews on those, there are a lot of steps that have to be taken to convert a case and that is when we are expected to have some lag time and have some delays," Bridges said.

She said that the Rutherford County DSS can handle up to 1,000 reviews per month for re-certification.

The delays expected may happen after the hard launch simply because of the transfer of data from the current system to the new NC FAST program.

"Right now, in the food stamp administration system, there are not very many fields that have to be put in, but with the NC FAST program, there are hundreds," Bridges said. "You can't certify a case until all of those fields are put in."

Initially, DSS officials also expected to have up to a one month delay in payment of the Food and Nutrition program, however now those delays have not occurred.

In addition to transferring the Food and Nutrition Program, Rutherford County DSS will also move the Medicaid program into NC FAST sometime in the third quarter of 2013.

North Carolina, according to Bridges, has until the end of 2013 to implement those programs because of regulations as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In October, Rutherford County DSS Director John Carroll said that the NC FAST system is meant to produce "faster and more accurate determinations of benefits."

The end result will be a one-stop location for applicants to apply for benefits. Carroll said that the system will be able to determine multiple benefits with just one application. It is also expected to reduce the number of caseworkers an applicant will have to interview with.

The fact that the county has been able to avoid longer wait times and no delays in payment processing is good news to Carroll.

"In my opinion, our wait times and lines have not been as bad as we thought they would be," Carroll said. "We feel like things are going smoothly."

Bridges added that one of the reasons why Rutherford County's implementation has been smooth is because of lessons learned from pilot counties that have already been through the implementation phase of the program. She said that those lessons have helped to "keep our head above water."

"We kind of thought it would be worse than it would be so far," Bridges said. "We worked hard to come up with a plan and everyone is really pitching in to help."