The Richmond County Department of Social Services began implementing a new statewide computer database Dec. 3. The new tool impacts new Food and Nutrition Services applicants seeking benefits.
Called NC FAST, the automated tool will eventually allow DSS staff to spend less time performing administrative tasks and more time providing direct assistance to families, officials said.
During the initial process for new applications, however, the face-to-face process may take longer. “Currently our application interviews take about 30 minutes on average, but we expect that it may take 90 minutes or longer as we first start using NC FAST,” said Betty Jo Oliver, DSS Food & Nutrition Services supervisor.
Barrett Hollimon, Income Maintenance Administrator for Richmond County DSS, said the positive trade-off for the lengthy application process will be that data entered into NC FAST will eventually be available to be accessed by other DSS programs as they come online with NC FAST in the next several years.
“Now a client who was requesting assistance through Medicaid, Work First and Nutrition Services would have to see three case workers, have three different sets of paperwork and have three different review periods,” Hollimon said.
While the change won’t immediately affect existing clients, the DSS staff will have to gather new information to enter into the system before renewals will be granted.
New applicants who would like to avoid the long interview can go online and complete an application for Food and Nutrition Services at www.epass.nc.gov. The application must be filled out, printed and signed and then the applicant can mail the application to DSS or bring the application to the office.
Applications can also be completed over the phone. A caseworker will take the information over the phone and mail the forms that need to be signed along with a list of additional information needed to complete the application.
For more information regarding NC FAST and Food and Nutrition Services, contact Richmond County DSS at 910-997-8481.