As the Sampson County Department of Social Services implements new technology to expedite cases in the community, the state disseminated information this morning that will change the way counties roll out the service.
That new method of implementing N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology) will officially begin this Monday, Oct. 1, DSS director Sarah Bradshaw said. Previously being put into effect by way of a soft launch, the process in Sampson County will become a hard launch — to take place in two stages itself — beginning next week.
N.C. FAST is a system of automated tools for DSS workers to quickly assess the clients’ needs and determine if they are eligible for public assistance. Along with giving caseworkers the tools to quickly identify and assess client needs and determine eligibility, N.C. FAST will allow for comprehensive management so cases can be tracked, information shared and services coordinated across program areas and county lines securely and confidentially.
The move toward increased efficiency through automation began in earnest in Sampson a couple months ago, with the first phase to include a change in delivery of Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), with other DSS programs to follow in the future. That was happening in recent weeks through a soft launch, whereby the old FSIS (Food Stamp Information System) has remained up and running while newly-trained workers use N.C. FAST to process new applications.
Bradshaw said the safety net of FSIS will disappear Monday in Sampson, which has been among a group of counties in Phase I of implementation in the state.
“(Income maintenance supervisor) Erma (Thornton) and I just had a conference call this morning, a statewide call to every county. We’re in the phase one group and the state confirmed the hard launch 1 this morning that we will take down our old system completely,” said Bradshaw. “We’re doing all new applications and re-applications on N.C. FAST right now.”
Under the previous plan, the first stage of the hard launch meant FSIS would be turned off for new applications only, while still available for re-certifications and other processing required for existing cases. It was under the second stage of the hard launch that all active FSIS cases would be converted into N.C. FAST and all FSIS processing will be turned off completely.
That has been modified somewhat, with full conversion happening in Sampson sooner rather than later.
During the start-up phase, DSS has been processing the FNS cases through a longer face-to-face application process, with staff taking a little longer as they learn all the “ins and outs” of the new program. While the application interview previously took about 30 minutes on average, that time has increased. Once N.C. FAST is up and running, it is expected that the turnaround for processing applications and delivering benefits will be much quicker.
DSS officials have touted the “one-stop” application process N.C. FAST offers, in which the person will give eligibility information just one time, to one worker. Staff can then use that information for a variety of public assistance programs, and not have to take it again and again. N.C. FAST also provides “fast, fair determinations,” comparing an application with up-to-date program requirements.
“The result is an accurate, consistent determination of eligibility no matter where in North Carolina an applicant lives or applies,” DSS officials said.
DSS has released information on how those wishing to apply for FNS can do so online.
Applications for Food and Nutrition Services can be completed at www.ePASS.nc.gov. Once the application is completed and printed, it must be signed. It can be faxed to 910-592-4297, mailed or dropped off at the DSS office.
A request can be made to complete an application over the phone by calling 910-592-7131. Once completed over the phone with the assistance of a caseworker, application and forms will be sent back to the client along with a list of any additional information needed to process the application. The applications will have to be signed and mailed back, with any other requested information, to Sampson County DSS, P.O. Box 1105 Clinton, N.C. 28329.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.