Sara Hernandez feels like she is stuck with no way out after a mistake in calculating her food stamp benefits means she has to pay more than $1700 back to the state of North Carolina.
"I don't think it is fair," the mother of three said Monday while showing a stack of documents she has received from the state. "It was their doing, not mine."
In January of 2013 her monthly food stamp allotment went from about $121 to more than $325. "I thought it was an automatic increase," she said.
Instead, it was a mistake that apparently was made when her information was put into the new North Carolina FAST computer program. That Program is designed to streamline the process to get benefits but has been under fire the past year because of glitches in the system and the time it has taken to implement it.
Hernandez's paperwork shows where the state admits the mistake was theirs in calculating her benefits. Even so, the state wants the overpayment back and in installments of about $170 a month. Sara says DS has apologized for the mixup but that's all. She has made the first payment and does plan to pay all the money back.
"It hurts, though," she said. "I'm behind on bills because of it."
"Systems make mistakes," said Catawba County DSS Director John Eller. The NC FAST system, he said, has been difficult and time consuming to implement but overall there have been few glitches in Catawba County. "I'm proud of how our people have handled it so far."
Eller would not speak directly about Sara's case, citing confidentiality rules but urged anyone receiving benefits, be it in Catawba County or elsewhere, to pay attention to the amounts they are getting. If they seem too low or have all of a sudden risen substantially, the client should speak with their case worker and ask questions about it.
Sara says not asking about the higher figure was her mistake and her advice to others is to be on the lookout for any sudden changes in benefits.