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New statewide food stamp system delays impacting pantry supply

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TWC News: New statewide food stamp system delays impacting pantry supply
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RALEIGH -- Many North Carolinians say they're experiencing significant delays in receiving food stamps through the state's new online assistance program.

NC FAST aims to improve how the Department of Health and Human Services and county departments to assist those in need.

Michelle Mihalic has to feed a family of five. After her husband lost his job, she applied for food stamps last month.

"I applied July first. I have not heard one word back from them. I called to make sure they received the application and they say it could take up to 45 days," said Raleigh resident Michelle Mihalic.

Not able to wait that long Mihalic has sought help at one of the local food pantries. And she isn't alone.

"A lot of our clients have not received food stamps in months. I had a client in here last week that hadn't gotten their food stamps since February," said Catholic Parish Outreach Program Director Terry Foley.

The new program, NC FAST, moves the assistance process to a paperless system that can be done online. But the delay is having a trickle-down effect for food assistance providers.

On Wednesday this food pantry served nearly 150 families. And numbers like that are starting to impact food supply which turns over about every month.

"We have decreased a little bit what we're having to give out. We're hoping these increases will sort of level out. Especially if the food stamp system is fixed," said Catholic Parish Outreach Program Director

In a statement, DHHS said the NC FAST system is a partnership with all 100 counties in the state, and that "we continue to help counties achieve their goals and we thank counties and county commissioners who have identified additional resources and hired temporary staff necessary to process applications. The state continues to send on-site staff to assist counties which are experiencing challenges."

Mihalic got a week's worth of groceries Wednesday, a temporary solution as she waits to see what can be done at the state of county level to help her provide food for her family going forward.

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