Food & Nutrition Unit getting assistance

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Lee County Commissioners agreed to fund additional positions within the Department of Social Services' Food & Nutrition Unit to ease the county's workload and shorten the wait for residents seeking food stamps.

At the request of Social Services Director Brenda Potts, commissioners agreed to add one permanent position and three temporary positions for a four-month period during Monday's commissioner meeting.

"We have reached a critical point where we can no longer operate the program without additional staff and resources," Potts said. "I am also concerned for the health of our staff and their safety."

According to Potts, the Food and Nutrition Unit has reached a critical point with clients not being served in a timely fashion, service is at an all-time low and quality control reviews are not being performed. Additional positions within the Food and Nutrition Unit have been requested in previous budget cycles but not approved. 

Since 2008, the Food and Nutrition employees have seen their caseloads double and a new state-mandated system, NC Fast, has, ironically, slowed down employees as they adjust to a new, more difficult system, Potts said.

"If Commissioner (Jim) Womack was here, he'd call it NC Slow," Potts said. "What would normally be a simple change, something that would have taken 25 to 30 minutes now take more than an hour. And it's statewide, not just Lee County."

The three temporary employees would work to transfer the cases from the current to the new NC Fast system, saving the Food and Nutrition employees time in the future, she said.

Employees are working overtime and are wearing thin, Potts said. One former employee went to NC Fast training on a Friday and turned in her resignation the next Monday because of the excess work, she said.

"The staff is tired of being cussed at," Potts said. "I'm sorry, but the clients tell them they are stupid, that they need to be fired. They are tired and worn out."

On average, each of the employees are assigned close to 800 cases and the workload is only becoming harder, she said.

Several commissioners thanked Potts and her staff for their work and Commissioner Kirk Smith said he was appalled by the "verbal assault."

"Folks have to understand," he said. "The first thing that came to my mind is how ungrateful. That's a shame."

The measure to approve the positions passed unanimously.

In other matters, commissioners:

* asked residents to pray for Commissioner Robert Reives and his wife Ruth, who is facing health concerns.

* approved grant requests from the Lee County Sheriff's Office for two separate applications from the N.C. Governors Crime Commission. The first $10,000 grant, which requires no local match, provides training for law enforcement officers for a school shooter situation. The second $80,000 grant, which requires a 25 percent match, would fund two additional deputies to be stationed at Greenwood and Deep River Elementary schools. If the Lee County Sheriff's Office received the two grants, the Lee County Commissioners would need to approve the grant funds. 

* denied Central Carolina Hospital's request for tax abatement of $6,377.13.

* considered an update on Lee County Parks and Recreation Department's projects, including renovations to Horton Park. 

* passed a tentative 2013-2014 budget procedure calendar with a commissioners' work session scheduled for March 15.

* reviewed information concerning interlocal agreements with the City of Sanford and the Town of Broadway. The packet of information included the number of agreements, history of agreements and financial impact to all three municipalities. Commissioners are scheduled to meet with Sanford City Council at 6 p.m. Jan. 29 at the McSwain Extension Education and Agriculture Center and the Broadway Board of Commissioners at 6 p.m. Jan. 31 tentatively in the Broadway Elementary auditorium.