DOBSON — Local social services officials say a new case management system being implemented across the state will not only help needy families access the services they need more quickly, but it could even give overworked staff a Saturday off.
This month, the local Department of Social Services will be rolling out new software known as the North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology (NCFAST).
The software is designed to provide county residents a way to determine whether they’re eligible for services over the Internet, while at the same time helping streamline case management across the variety of programs offered, according to Wayne Black, director of Surry County Social Services.
“NCFAST provides us with tools that will essentially assist us in determining eligibility across the programs,” he said.
The system is designed to determine eligibility for all programs, and will allow social services workers to access that information once it is online.
“Instead of having to see multiple people to apply for or receive services, clients will have to tell their story once and through this system we’ll be able to determine their eligibility across all programs,” Black said. “Once fully online, this will enhance our efficiency tremendously, and increase our accuracy and timeliness. This will make it less difficult for applicants to interact with the Department of Social Services.”
The new software has been in the planning stages for more than a decade, and is expected to be rolled out in three stages over the coming weeks.
Jennifer Brewer, supervisor of the department’s Food Nutrition Services unit, said that while the application and eligibility information is going to be available to all departments online, that doesn’t mean they won’t have to interview with staff.
“We will still have to interview clients, but this will allow us to have their information in front of us, and we will even be able to do telephone interviews when we deem it necessary,” she said.
Brewer said she believes the new software will be a boon for the department and clients as well.
“I think it’s just going to be great,” she said. “These days, so many people have access to computers that we’re actually going to be able to catch up with the 21st century.”
Black noted that social service workers have been working long hours, and even weekends, to handle the increased volume of cases.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” he said. “We’ve always said we can’t staff our way out of the workload, and we have staff working weekends trying to handle the increased volume of cases.
“We’ve been working Saturdays just to keep up with the mandatory requirements of getting applications processed by deadline.
“This way, we’ll be better able to utilize our staff, and the people who need the services will be able to receive them more quickly,” Black added. “If people need benefits, they probably need them today.”
Brewer asked the public to bear with the department while they become familiar with the software.
“We know your situation is an emergency, and understand how badly you need help, but please bear with us during the implentation phase,” she said.
NCFAST can be found online at www.epass.nc.gov.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.