WILSON — Gov. Pat McCrory said Thursday that President Barack Obama’s visit to North Carolina this week gave him the opportunity to talk about energy exploration and clear the air about case backlogs within the state’s food stamp program.
McCrory said he spoke briefly with the president after he landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Wednesday. The president later toured a manufacturing plant and talked about the economy at N.C. State University.
The Republican governor told reporters Wednesday he wanted to build a relationship with the Democratic president, despite their policy differences. He sounded hopeful Thursday that it would make a difference on the food stamp issue.
“We plan for ... good positive cooperation in the future,” McCrory said following a business round-table event in Wilson.
McCrory said he asked Obama to remove a prohibition on seismic testing to measure potential oil and natural gas off the coast. The brief discussion generated a scheduled visit for McCrory and other governors to Washington in February to visit U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, McCrory said.
The governor said Thursday he’s prepared to soon become the next chairman of a coalition of chief executives from other states seeking to ask the federal government to revive offshore leasing in part after 2017. Seismic testing is a preliminary step to drilling exploratory wells.
McCrory told business leaders and sweet potato growers at an earlier meeting that offshore drilling, if successful, could lead to new jobs in eastern North Carolina and state revenues for priorities such as education.
The governor attended the president’s N.C. State speech, where Obama discussed a new Raleigh-based consortium of universities and businesses to develop more efficient semiconductor chips and power devices.
Afterward, McCrory said he met with a top administration official on the trip to discuss a Dec. 11 letter from a regulator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food stamp program. In it, the regional administrator threatened the loss of administrative funds for the program, which serves 1.7 million people in North Carolina, unless delays in processing applications and renewals were reduced.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said it already was trying to fix the problem by the time it responded with a Dec. 23 letter, but McCrory took issue with the USDA’s initial approach.
“For them to send a threatening letter was not a productive and constructive move, especially for those who need the food stamps,” he said Thursday. At Wednesday’s meeting, McCrory said he received assurances from the federal government to work together on the issue.
Data from the state showed more than 30,000 had waited longer than a month to receive food stamp benefits through the NC FAST computer system, which handles applications. But DHHS said this week the number included thousands of duplicate applications.
McCrory still expressed frustration Thursday with the federal government for the stunted federal health care overhaul rollout, which he said has generated seemingly daily new rules for DHHS on Medicaid. DHHS doesn’t know from Washington how many new people in North Carolina are enrolling for Medicaid through the online health care portal if they don’t qualify for subsidized private insurance. The difference is important because the state must pay a significant portion of the Medicaid coverage.