Following last week’s announcement that a hard launch for a new application system in Sampson would begin this week, Department of Social Services officials have been presented a timeline that would see more training this year leading to a second hard launch stage, and ultimately full implementation of the client-friendly change by next year.
The state is implementing N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology) in stages and phases, with Sampson at the forefront of a modification that would give DSS workers the tools to quickly identify and assess client needs and determine eligibility. Comprehensive case management, information sharing and service coordination across program areas and county lines would also be possible with N.C. FAST.
While the application interview previously took about 30 minutes on average, that time has increased greatly — in some cases to around 90 minutes. Once N.C. FAST is up and running, it is expected that the turnaround for processing applications and delivering benefits will be much quicker. It is an ongoing process.
“The application process has been taking considerably longer,” income maintenance supervisor Erma Thornton said, “and customers have been very understanding and patient with us during this process.”
In recent weeks, Sampson and other Phase I counties (just behind a handful of pilot counties) have undergone 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.
During the soft launch over the last couple months, Sampson has significantly increased the number of new applications recorded in the new N.C. FAST system. While new and reopen FSIS applications taken in July in Sampson were 431, compared to just four new N.C. FAST applications, that changed drastically the next month. In August, 187 new and reopen FSIS applications were taken in Sampson, compared with 225 new N.C. FAST applications — 54.6 percent of all applications taken in total were done on the new system.
The first DSS service receiving the automation is Food and Nutrition Services (FNS). Training will continue as Sampson negotiates its way through the new system.
“Since we are in Phase 1, and our county has been doing all new applications and reapplications in the N.C. FAST system for over a month, it is anticipated that that our county will enter stage 1 of the ‘hard launch’ Monday (Oct. 1),” said Thornton. “This is when the FSIS system will be turned off as a back-up for applications and reapplications. Our county FNS staff should beginning receive the 2.5 day training for the preparation of ‘Hard Launch Stage 2’ beginning Oct. 29. This training will prepare the county to complete conversion of cases from FSIS to N.C. FAST, which is processing re certifications and case changes.”
After all FNS staff have received training, a readiness assessment will be conducted to determine the appropriate timing for “Hard Launch Stage 2” for Sampson County, during which all active FSIS cases will be converted into NC FAST, and all FSIS processing will be turned off completely.
The hard launch’s second stage could take place as early as Nov. 13, or as late as Jan. 22, 2013, Thornton noted.
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. While the first wave will encompass food assistance, it is anticipated other department programs will get the N.C. FAST treatment in the future.
The change will prove beneficial and, in time, much more effective and efficient than the system that has been used for years, DSS officials said.
“As with any new program or system, there have been some bumps, but overall the staff have and are doing a tremendous job,” Thornton said. “I definitely believe once N.C. FAST is fully implemented, we will look back and wonder how we managed before. It truly is like building an interstate highway, there are detours and major hurdles, but the finished project is great.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.