ELIZABETHTOWN — The federal government has turned the screws tighter on North Carolina with stringent requirements for county Food and Nutrition Services to process applications. That’s the message brought to the Bladen County Board of Commissioners on Monday from Vicki Smith, director of the county’s Department of Social Services.
“We received a letter from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners which told us the state is not meeting the USDA’s requirements for timeliness with application processing,” Smith said.
Smith added that, between July 1 and Dec. 31 in 2015, the USDA gave North Carolina a mandate to process 85 percent of all applications within a timely manner; between Jan. 1 and June 30 in 2016, applications must be processed at 95 percent or better within the required time frames.
According to the USDA, all emergency applications must be processed within four calendar days of their receipt, while all other applications must be processed within 25 calendar days.
“That’s four calendar days, not working days,” Smith said. “That’s part of the problem North Carolina has faced. So if day three or four for an emergency application falls on a weekend, for example, that application must be processed before the weekend.”
The county’s FNS currently serves nearly 4,600 households with just 12 employees.
“These ladies are hustlers,” Smith said. “They’ve worked hard to keep up despite facing many challenges.”
She added that, during the week ending March 25, the department has processed 96.66 percent of non-expedited applications, 100 percent of all expedited applications and 96.67 percent of all approved applications.
“I’m real proud that we are above the USDA’s requirements,” Smith said.
Should the state fall below the USDA requirements, the consequences could mean the loss of about $80 million in federal funding.
The board concluded the informational period by voting Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson as the board’s liaison with the FNS.
School roof issue
Commissioners heard an update from Bladen County Schools Sup’t. Robert Taylor on the roof at Booker T. Washington in Clarkton.
Last month the board voted to allow lottery money to be used to replace a portion of the school’s roof that has been leaking for some time.
“Major leaks have developed and tiles have been falling,” Taylor said. “Mold issues can become a major issue if this is not addressed.”
Taylor said the school was built in 1947, with an addition that currently houses the kindergarten through second grade wing in 1957 and an addition that now houses the administration wing in 1972. The roof replacement is focusing on the 1957 addition.
“Compared to a variety of present-day building performance measures, BTW is deficient in many categories,”Taylor said. “Overall the building appears in good condition and is well maintained (but) old plumbing fixtures still exist in the bathrooms and ADA compliance becomes an issue in all buildings constructed in the pre-1970s.”
Taylor added that the school district has plans to house students at Booker T. Washington at least through the 2016-17 school year. There are currently 194 students enrolled in the K-5 school.
“Since children will be in the building for the next one to two years, it is imperative that they be provided a safe environment in which to learn,” Taylor said.
In other action Monday:
— Commissioners presented Vicki Smith and Jill Sampson with a proclamation designating April as Child Abuse Awareness Month.
— The County approved the use of the Bladen County Courthouse lawn for the eighth annual DSS Child Abuse Awareness event. The day will include bounce houses, activities for children, food and displays — as well as the annual walk from San Jose to the courthouse, which will start at 1 p.m. Also, a balloon release will end the day as a memorial to those children who lost their lives as a result of child abuse.
— Heard a report from Robin Hewett, director of computer operations, on the renewal of the county’s copier contract. Hewett said Systel was the lowest bidder among the six companies asked to submit bids. He also said the OK was given to include bids using refurbished machines. The current contract expires June 30 and the issue was tabled.
— Commissioners approved a meeting with a Legislative Delegation at the Bladen County Health Department on April 14 at 7 p.m.
— County Manager Greg Martin said the next meeting of the board will be Monday, April 18, at 6:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.