North Carolina’s herculean effort to convert 19 social services legacy programs and all their paperwork – forms and verifications – into a single digital application is streamlining a decades-old clunky process under the name NC FAST.
North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology is a new comprehensive, integrated case management system, being rolled out while development continues. It will ultimately save local DSS staff time and require clients to schedule only one appointment to tell their stories while a caseworker determines eligibility for services. It also includes multiple safeguards to eliminate opportunities for fraud.
“NC FAST represents a 21st century approach to the way local social service agencies work with clients,” said Joe Cooper, DHHS chief information officer. “It is a transition to an almost paperless system that will ultimately allow consumers to log in from home and update their information.”
The beginning of this revolutionary process at DHHS goes back to the mid-1990s, with the idea to establish a single point of entry and a single paper application for DSS customers that could consolidate the intake process for all potential benefits.
That idea has morphed into a full-scale digital model that is becoming the new standard for North Carolina and its citizens seeking services. NC FAST began in 2003 gathering requirements and completing prior projects. Development began in 2010, and has gained backing, speed and interest since then. Already the Food and Nutrition Services program is online statewide. TANF and Medicaid will begin the transition in June with the launch of three pilot programs in Johnston, Orange and Chatham counties.
“North Carolina is the first state to wrap all 19 legacy systems into a single intake process,” says Anthony Vellucci, director of NC FAST. “Other states are now visiting the NC FAST office to see first-hand how we are integrating so many systems into one streamlined process.”
This new technological solution eliminates long waits for clients, and for those with jobs, time away from work. A single caseworker can provide the intake services needed for all programs for which a client may be eligible. The client must present documentation only once for intake processing.
NC FAST also incorporates automated verifications through electronic records maintained by DMV, the Employment Security Commission, the IRS and the Social Security Administration, all in an instant, which speeds the application process and protects taxpayers from potential fraud.
“This process allows all applicants to be vetted. All their evidence of eligibility will be verified. Our system follows policy 100 percent,” Vellucci says from the NC FAST offices off Glenwood Avenue where color-coded charts taped to walls track progress of the multi-staged undertaking.
Last month DHHS Secretary Aldona Z. Wos visited Johnston County DSS to get a look at how NC FAST has impacted services. Johnston, Guilford, Catawba and Carteret counties piloted the NC FAST Food and Nutrition Services program transition from paper to digital records starting last summer.
”The employees I spoke with said the transition was challenging at first, but after six months with the system, they have nothing but positive things to say about how NC FAST has changed the way they do their jobs,” said Secretary Wos.
Already, there are 5,500 caseworkers who log into the system to enter client data for an estimated 850,000 households receiving Food and Nutrition Services benefits. When TANF and Medicaid come online, the number of NC FAST users will jump to about 10,000 as about 1.6 million Medicaid clients are brought into the system.
NC FAST staff members provide all the software and interfacing, and training for local DSS caseworkers so they can become proficient in use of the system.
NC FAST is cost allocated across multiple federal agencies with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) providing enhanced funding at 90 percent through 2015. Until then, NC FAST is making every effort to expedite the project to maximize the enhanced funding.