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"NC Fast" Anything But...Citizens Experience Long Waits, Reductions in Food Assistance

Photo: Food available at one of the Loaves & Fishes pantries. Courtesy: Loaves & Fishes

Photo: Food available at one of the Loaves & Fishes pantries. Courtesy: Loaves & Fishes
August 8, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Many of the 1.7 million people in North Carolina in need of food are caught in a tangle of technical red tape caused by the state's new electronic benefits payment system.

At a cost of $48 million, NC FAST is meant to provide an online method to distribute SNAP assistance - more commonly known as food stamps - but there are reports statewide of long waits as people transition into the system. It's placing additional demand on food pantries such as Loaves & Fishes, which serves Mecklenberg County.

"I am frustrated with the state," said Beverly Howard, Loaves & Fishes' executive director, "that they would pull something like this out that still has glitches and just assume that the local sources will be able to rise to meet this need."

State officials are trying to fix the problems with NC FAST, which was implemented in March. At the same time, SNAP beneficiaries also can expect a reduction in their payments starting in November with the expiration of Recovery Act funding. Without the monthly boost to benefits, families will have less than $1.40 to spend per meal for people in their households. Statewide, North Carolina will lose $166 million a year in additional funding.

Every year, Loaves & Fishes provides a week's worth of food to 126,000 people in the Charlotte area through 19 pantries. After surviving the economic downturn and subsequent increased need from the community, Howard said, the timing of these problems makes it even tougher.

"Summer is a long, hard time for our pantries and our clients," she said, "so this has been especially difficult hitting at the time of year it did."

Like many food pantries, Loaves & Fishes receives no federal or state money. In order to stop the expiration of the additional SNAP funding, Congress will have to act immediately once it returns from its August recess.

A national report on SNAP benefit reductions is online at cbpp.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC