Monday, July 31, 2006

Spin by Center for Health Care Policy Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation

Opinion: Wait's Out of Welfare; Why Aren't Critics Happy?
Mary Katherine Stout
Special to the Houston Chronicle
Texas has undertaken an ambitious plan to overhaul the way applications for government assistance are handled. But over the last six months the plan has taken a pummeling at the hands of state employees unions and advocates for bigger government; they have relished the bad news and missteps dominating news reports of the new system.
Like blacksmiths facing the advent of the automobile, critics hope to forestall progress.
**I know that in our local office, we have long held the belief that if this system could work, and work WELL- benefitting the clients as a whole- we'd be all for it. 
In 2003, lawmakers directed the Health and Human Services Commission to establish and outsource call centers for all assistance programs, "if cost-effective." The commission contracted with a coalition of firms, led by Accenture, which began work late last year. The new system, allowing one-stop access to all assistance programs, was to be gradually implemented.
By using modern tools that have become standard conveniences — such as the Internet and phone (Internet and phone that a majority of our clients do not even have, but ok) — the new system is designed to control costs, increase efficiency and improve client accessibility. Rather than relying primarily on in-person interviews in a field office (which helps to insure a case is done correctly, and accurately- as the client is RIGHT THERE WITH YOU- also preventing fraud in that you could verify who you were interviewing) with limited hours of operation (easily solved if you only extend office hours in local offices- oh wait!  We did that and the response was deadtime), the new system also allows applicants extended hours by phone, and 24-hour online access (they can call an automated line RIGHT NOW in the "old world" 24/7 to check the status of their case.  That has always been available).
Real and perceived problems have stalled implementation. Meanwhile, critics have promoted stories of miscues, such as claims applications were inappropriately faxed to a warehouse in Seattle. The commission found that incident resulted from accidental misdialing by applicants, yet those opposing the new system wrongly cling to it as evidence of malfeasance.
Critics claim the old way is best and should be rebuilt, while others believe privatization will modernize the system.
In early July, 30 Texas House members sent Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins a letter, expressing support for the new system and its promise to "bring administration of human services programs in Texas into the 21st century."
Two days later, 60 other members of the House sent a different letter to Hawkins, urging him to cancel the contract. They asked him to "commit the remaining resources to rebuild the human services eligibility system that, as little as two years ago, was among the best in the country."
The contrast in positions could not be more stark.
Of course, the old system — "the best in the country" (best in the country which was proven by way of accuracy rates and ENHANCED FUNDING BONUSES PAID TO THE TEXAS GENERAL FUND)— still serves most recipients of state assistance, since the new system isn't available statewide. Critics pan the new system, holding a seemingly romanticized notion of the old ways. Perhaps they should consider what the "old" system was like.
In a recent visit to a field office outside the "pilot" area, I sat for two hours in a room with dozens of people, many of whom arrived long before me, and would remain long after I left. One man was in the same office the day before, only to be told that his application couldn't be finished that day and he would need to return the next. On day two he arrived 50 minutes early for an 11 o'clock appointment, but wasn't seen until after 4 p.m.
As one woman waited more than three hours for her appointment, she said the rule of thumb was to "pack a lunch." She later learned her name had been called while stepping outside, missing her "appointment." She was instructed to return the next day, despite protests she had other state-required appointments to keep and difficulty in finding transportation.
Considering her instructions to return the next day, perhaps she will also begin taking a sleeping bag.
The waiting room had no reading material, no information on finding a job, getting a degree, locating community resources, getting parenting guidance or child care. While waiting, some attended to their children; others talked on their cellular phones.
Most people spent hours just waiting — unproductively. (I would hope that you aren't making the broad generalizations based on a visit to one office.  I know that in the office I work in, I see upwards of 10-15 appointments everyday ON TIME.  I certify my clients timely.  I assure you that you would not find that to the be the case every single day in every single office.  To write about it based on that one experience is wrong.)
While many would argue this is the result of short-staffed offices (that is EXACTLY why this is happening across the state- some offices have lost anywhere from 20% to 80% of their staff!  What in the world can anyone expect? If the only grocery store in town lost 80% of its checkers, what kind of wait do you think that would cause?), the reality is that there is no excuse for a horse-and-buggy system when considering the technology now available (That horse and buggy system never had a client waiting MONTHS for their Food Stamp case to be completed.  Everyone involved with TIERS knows it does NOT WORK like SAVERR does). A system that treats people with such lack of dignity, and with no respect for their time, is simply indefensible. (Thank your local Congressmen and Albert Hawkins for that).
At one time many of the new system's critics would have agreed. For years they pointed to the inconvenience of going to a field office for in-person interviews (just FYI- but now that we are doing virtually ALL phone interviews, clients are realizing that coming in isn't that big of an inconvenience if that means their case could be finished the same day.  When doing interviews by phone, 99% of the cases must be delayed for futher information-information that the client may have had with them at the interview had it been a face to face interview), highlighting the virtues of one-stop shopping and demanding change based on client dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with the system they now claim is superior to all others. (Dissatisfaction with a system that actually got people CERTIFIED timely.  Clients are like anyone else- if you tell them you can make something easier, they are all for it- but in non-pilot areas- we are dealing with clients that are in the TIERS system that practically beg local office staff to please take them OUT of the "new and improved system" and let them stay in the old system....of course, we are 'told' that is not possible- even though everyone knows that it is).
Reports of real problems in the new system cannot be taken lightly, and taxpayers should demand efficiency for every tax dollar. But calls to end the project and return to the old way are simply insufficient. To ignore the opportunity to deliver services more efficiently for taxpayers and more conveniently for the recipients, despite having the resources to do so, is unacceptable.
The state must move forward using well-established technologies that deliver better efficiency for taxpayers, along with greater convenience for the recipients of state benefits.
Mary Katherine Stout is the director of the Center for Health Care Policy Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit research institute based in Austin.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Feedback from the Hearings on Wednesday

Got this via email from someone who was at the hearing Wednesday:

Hello- I was at the hearing yesterday about chip and iee. Two important
items stood out for me.

1-- I believe we all understand the 5 yr. contract period to have begun in 1/06 or 12/05 and that there is approx. 4.5 yrs. left in the contract. Hawkins was saying that the 5 yrs. begins when full rollout begins. Uresti then asks - does this mean this is a 10 yr. or 20 yr. contract? Hawkins is saying - well we don't know-Huh? are we going to be working into the next millenium on this?

2-- I have understood that if this contract adventure does not work out, the eligibility would revert back to the state. I seem to recall this as something that was mentioned as the fall back position to coax us into supporting integrated eligibility. But no, I was wrong and naive. HHSC atty. Steve Aragon was saying that if, and it's not going to happen because the contract is going to work, but if the contract were to fail, we would have to look for someone else. Not, this will go back to the state, but get used to being private because that's what's happening whether we like it or not. I think this is a new spin position of hhsc.

Interesting article, with many comments

Read this article HERE, then read all the comments.

Are there any ART workers reading here? If not, can someone forward this post to them- I'd like to know what their response is to the "Craig" that left a comment to this article.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Decision months away on call center sanctions

Despite performance, state says it doesn't plan to drop privatization
08:49 AM CDT on Thursday, July 27, 2006
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – The state has to gather so much evidence before it penalizes the private vendor running social services call centers that any decision about sanctions could be many months away, officials suggested Wednesday.

**By the time the state gets around to sanctioning Accenture, it will probably already be in the process of being sanctioned by the Feds......because we ALL know that's coming.

The state's top social services officials told lawmakers that they are still in the early stages of assessing possible damages for poor performance, which they can seek under a five-year, $899 million contract with a group led by Accenture Ltd., a consulting and outsourcing company.
But Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins said he isn't retreating from privatization of social program signups, despite calls by 60 House members and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell for him to cancel the contract.

*But of course, why in the world would Albert Hawkins listen to House Members? I mean, who are they to him, right? Albert Hawkins only does as he pleases- studies be damned- workers in the field who DO this work everyday be damned- clients be damned.

"The concept of the new model provides many more benefits to our clients, to our workers and to our state taxpayers," Mr. Hawkins said. "And that's why the goals of the initiative are the right goals to pursue."

Both Mr. Hawkins, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, and Accenture executive Randy Willis acknowledged that the outsourcing effort has had some failures, especially last winter.

But they told the House Government Reform Committee that abandoned calls, wait times and errors are down (maybe that's the case because the State was given back the work and now instead of clients calling 2-1-1 they come in the local office for service- if they DO call 2-1-1, guess what they are told? To go to the local office), while service is improving for Texans seeking to apply for social services. Staffing is up at the vendor's four call centers, they said; a fourth opened this month in Athens.

Still, Mr. Hawkins wouldn't say when the state would resume rolling out the new system, which will close many state eligibility field offices as more aid seekers apply by Internet, phone or fax, not an office visit. (Once again- clients have ALWAYS been able to apply by fax. The internet? I mean, let's be real- they go to the website and download the application which then has to be faxed or mailed into the local offices. And, let's not leave out the fact that if the client is applying for FOOD STAMPS they must SIGN the application before it is accepted- so they cannot apply by PHONE. They can give basic info, then must wait for the application to be sent to them, so they can sign, and return. No one has EVER had to make an 'office visit' to apply).

Poorly trained call center operators, technological problems and state rule changes threatened to overwhelm the vendor earlier this year.

Mr. Hawkins said the state has spent more than it expected to help train the private employees. He said that he doesn't know how much that cost but that the money can be recouped in a "fairly simple and straightforward" adjustment to Accenture's future bills.

The state has paid the vendor $103 million.

Mr. Hawkins said the contract was tightly written to protect taxpayers, though some provisions also protect Accenture. The state has to document any allegations of failure to perform and let Accenture respond, he said. He declined to say when he might rule on sanctions.

"The payment structure, the key performance requirements, all of it comes in to make a very complex contract structure," Mr. Hawkins said.

Celia Hagert, a nutrition expert with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank that has criticized the state for rushing the privatization without adequate testing, said a decision on sanctions could take years, not months.

"It would require an incredible amount of work ... by state staff in order to make the case just for a simple penalty," she said.

While people all over the state can apply electronically or by phone for children's health insurance, that can be done for adult aid only in the Austin-San Marcos area.

Even there, the state is still not confident enough of the vendor's capability to let private workers handle new applications. The private workers have focused on reducing a backlog, while state workers process new applications.

Accenture's Mr. Willis said a subcontractor running its Midland call center has had to raise operators' wages to reduce turnover. They are now paid $8.75 an hour, up from $8. (Where is my Accenture commentor from before? The one that said the employees made WAY more than $8? I do believe this quote came from someone FROM Accenture- they've raised what they are paying their employees- to $8.75! That doesn't exactly match that $40,000 year quote that was left in comments on this blog, does it?)


Thursday, July 20, 2006


The post below, from the client who blogged about her issues? She has updated the situation and you can read about it HERE.

Remember the Days

Remember when Burton Raiford was the Commish and you NEVER saw him- then Eric Bost came along and actually got out and about among the masses? Of course, we didn't know at the time what would become of Mr Bost, but it was refreshing to see the head of the agency out talking to the ones that work in the field!

Remember QC Rallies? Remember they'd bring in a comedian or something to lighten the mood and make you laugh until you couldn't breathe?

Remember how you felt like the average John Doe didn't think you did anything worthwhile - but you always felt like "Administration" cared about what you did?

Remember BJST! Lifelong friendships could be made in those classes, couldn't they? You bonded with the 20 or so "new workers" and even if you scattered out to various offices after BJST was over, you still kept in touch through email or no, SPEED MEMOS!

Remember those slow computers!? Packard Bells! Ugly Orange Screens that were slow as can be!

We got supplemental trainings: PRA Training, Changes Training, Self-Employment Training, Case Clues Training, Quarterly Revision Training, Stress Management Training, "Who's on First" for Trainees, QC Rallies, Worker Conferences......

Remember the days when you could put in your time, and put in for a promotion and get a Worker III job, then a Supervisor job. If you wanted, you could apply for a job with the Training Unit- or if you were in Austin- you could end up in State Office. There was a job track!

Remember MATP's? I can remember having to stay late in the office so all the MATP's could be issued to all those expedites, then we'd get up and do it again the next day.

Remember the days when you felt like you were actually helping people?

How do we get that back? Can we?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New posting by another blogger

Father John has a new post up today about the fiasco that is HHSC. Go check it out!

News for the Day

July 18, 2006, 6:43AM
Lawyer says state unlikely to drop call center contractor
Associated Press

AUSTIN -- The Health and Human Services Commission probably won't act on a request made by 60 lawmakers that it fire the contractor in charge of enrolling people in public assistance, the agency's top lawyer said. (read the rest of the article HERE)


Local reps against call center contracts
New method alters way of applying for public assistance

By Michael HinesTimes Record News
July 18, 2006

Area state lawmakers are part of a push to end a new method for applying for public assistance services such as Medicaid and food stamps. (read the rest of the article HERE)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Clients speak out!

Here is a synopsis of a client navigating the 'system' since 'privatization'- you can read it HERE.

Articles out there in the Blog World about HHSC

Outsource Accenture-Bay Area Houston

60 State Reps Demand Accenture be Fired from HHS Account-Dallas Blog

More Accenture? - Capitol Annex

Fire Accenture! - Off the Kuff

If it's broke, don't fix it-PinkDome

Accenture's view of the work for HHS-Dallas Blog

Left Hand,Right Hand-South Texas Chisme

I've added links on the blog to Blog Searches for both "Accenture" and "HHSC"- it's a quick way to see what's being said out there.....

If you come across something of interest that you have not seen here, please email me the link or leave it in comments and I'll get it posted.

The more we spread the word, the better.

Joining the Union

This blog is not going to preach about joining the Union....but I must say that if you are not a member of the Union, you should be.
Historically, many employees feel like that because we do not have the right to bargain or strike, that there isn't anything the Union can do for us.  However, I must say that I implore anyone reading here is NOT a member of the Union to realize and understand that the Union is working very hard to get this Agency back.  They work with your State Representives in getting client services back to acceptable levels and work to save your jobs.
I wasn't a member of the Union for many years due to the fact that I was unaware of what the Union could do for ME specifically.  However, I've come to realize that what is good for me is good for everyone and vice versa.  If the Union can, for example, sway State Reps who were previously ALL FOR privatization to rethink their position, this is a huge positive.  They are hard at work all the time making phone calls, making visits, dealing with whoever they possibly can to help others on the outside see the light of what has happened with the contract with Accenture.  We, front line staff, knew all along that the push to privatize was never going to work.  We said it from the very beginning.  State Reps had no idea of the amount of work we really did, and all they saw was Hawkins and Co. say they were going to save Texas millions of dollars.  Nevermind the fact that pre-Accenture, Texas was GETTING millions from the Feds in enhanced funding ALREADY.  The Enhanced Funding Bonuses that were being paid to Texas were the direct result of Advisors ensuring that cases were worked accurately and timely. 
If you haven't already, click on the link to the Union and just read up on it.  Consider it.  There IS power in numbers.  Imagine if the entire agency was part of the Union- this would increase the amount of money the Union needs to lobby FOR us.  If you are already a member of the Union, I encourage you to become a member of COPE. 
If you aren't a member now and would like more information, leave a comment....I'll do my best to find out what you need.

See the all-new, redesigned Check it out.


Can anyone shed light on what is going on in your area as far as exceptions being given to worker staff who are experiencing delinquencies due to the overload of applications? I read in a comment in another post that someone wasn't getting exceptions? How can that be? If an application is not scheduled until the 30th day (for example) it was going to be delinquent before the worker even touches it!

Are you getting exceptions? If not, what are the reasons being given? If not, are you being held accountable on your evaluations for the delinquencies?

Opinion: Don't Throw Good Social Services Money After Bad

Staff Editorial
Lufkin Daily News
There was plenty of skepticism beforehand as to whether privately owned call centers could effectively handle the state's public assistance enrollment program.
So far, the performance of Texas Access Alliance – the group of companies awarded an $899 million, five-year contract to handle benefit enrollment – has done nothing to inspire confidence that the plan will work.
In fact, there has been no "performance" to judge, because the program has not yet been instituted. Problems with technology, personnel and training caused the state to delay the rollout of the program that would turn over the enrollment process for those seeking food stamps, Medicaid and welfare. They also delayed the layoff of at least 1,000 state employees due to the inability of TAA to get the program up and running.
A group of 60 legislators, among them Democratic state Rep. Jim McReynolds of Lufkin, have written a letter asking the state to cancel the program, according to a Wednesday story by Cox News Service.
McReynolds is one of 48 Democrats and 12 Republicans asking Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins to cancel the contract due to the inability of Accenture, the "anchor" of the TAA program, to get the program up and running.
Hawkins had already halted the statewide expansion of the new eligibility system "until concerns can be resolved," but the group of legislators is now recommending the contract be canceled. They appear to be of the opinion that it's better to cut the state's losses now, at $103 million, than to continue with a company that has been so far unable to produce on a single "deliverable."
A group of 30 legislators, all Republican, has written a letter in support of the contract, although they did approve of Hawkins' decision to delay the expansion.
We agree with McReynolds' group. Accenture has been given plenty of time, and money, to produce something other than excuses. They have not.
We've already said that we disagreed with the state's plan to turn over the system to call centers. If there are to be any savings, and that's yet to be proven, we don't believe it would be enough to justify the loss to those who depend on the system.
However, if the decision has been made to go to such a system, then they should at least be assured of some degree of success.
The present contractor hasn't been able to deliver that assurance.
We shouldn't throw $796 million in good money after bad.

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Bell joins welfare screener critics The Democratic governor hopeful urges HHS to drop privatization deal, keep jobs in Texas

Clay Robison
Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN - Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell said Friday the state should cancel an $899 million human services privatization contract that also has come under fire from Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and many legislators.
"It's every bit as nightmarish as the reports indicate," Bell said of the contract awarded to Accenture LLP for screening applicants for public assistance programs.
The Bermuda-based company, which manages a consortium of subcontractors called Texas Access Alliance, has been attacked by social services advocates, who say low-income Texans are losing benefits because of inadequate staffing and training at private call centers.
The contract is part of a massive reorganization of health and human services agencies ordered by the Legislature in 2003 in an effort to streamline the delivery of public services and reduce costs.
HHS leader still backs plan
Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, isn't backing down from the contract, and neither is Perry.
Hawkins, however, has slowed down the privatization effort to try to address complaints about a call center pilot program, including lost or backlogged applications, long wait times on phone lines and eligible recipients being cut from services.
The commissioner has canceled plans to lay off hundreds of state workers who were to have been replaced by contract employees.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt has said the governor is unhappy with the privatization problems but has "utmost confidence that Commissioner Hawkins will address the issues."
Earlier this week, 60 members of the Texas House, 12 Republicans and 48 Democrats, called for the state to cancel the Accenture contract and use the money to "rebuild a community-based system that works."
But 30 other legislators, all Republicans, urged Hawkins to continue the transition to privatization.
Strayhorn, running for governor as an independent, announced plans two months ago to investigate the contract. Spokesman Mark Sanders said Friday that Strayhorn didn't want to comment on whether the contract should be canceled until after the investigation has been completed.
"It's a huge contract with huge problems," Sanders said.
Strayhorn also targeted
Bell has criticized Strayhorn for once advocating privatization of some health and human services programs.
Sanders said the privatization approved by the Legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission was broader than the comptroller had recommended as a cost-cutting measure in 2003.
Bell said screening of public assistance applicants should be handled by state employees.
Spokeswoman Jill Angelo said earlier this week that Texas Access Alliance was working with the state and had made "significant progress over the past several months to improve performance."

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

TSEU Broadcast

July 13, 2006

Human Services call center plan/ Accenture contract
* 30 others sign letter supporting Accenture contract
* all signers listed in this broadcast
* see TSEU's website ( at High Tech Boondoggle) for copies of the letters
* See also Press Releases and Press Clippings on TSEU's web site for more

On July 12 State Rep. Pat Haggerty ( R El Paso) released a letter to HHSC Executive Chairman Albert Hawkins that calls on the commissioner to cancel the contract with Accenture, commit resources to rebuild the HHSC community-based eligibility system, and to demand a refund from Accenture. TSEU worked closely with Rep. Haggerty's staff on the project, contacting dozens of legislators to explain the issues and ask for their support. The letter was signed by a bi-partisan group of 60 state representatives. The letter applauds Commissioner Hawkins' decision to delay the rollout of theAccenture/call center plan and to rescind the layoff notices for HHSC employees. It goes on to note that Texas faces a severe funding crunch, and that the state should not throw good moneyafter bad by continuing to fund the call center plan or the Accenture contract. The letter continues: "In light of all these issues, we ask you to consider the following proposal to rebuild a community-based system that works and does not waste tax dollars on broken contractual promises. We ask you to cancel the contract with Accenture for non-performance and commit the remaining resources to rebuild the human services eligibility system that, as little as two years ago, was among the best in the country. In addition, we ask you to consider demanding thatAccenture return some of the payments for which Texas has not received the products and/or services as promised."

The legislators who signed the letter (in order as they appear on the letter):

Rep. Pat Haggerty (R) El Paso
Rep.Elliott Naishtat (D) Austin
Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D) Austin
Rep. Rick Hardcastle ( R) Vernon;
Rep. Charlie Geren (R) Fort Worth
Rep. Tony Goolsby ( R) Dallas
Rep. Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton ( R) Mauriceville
Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles (D) Alice
Rep. Jim Dunnam (D) Waco
Rep. Brian McCall ( R) Plano
Rep. Toby Goodman ( R) Arlington
Rep. Bryan Hughes ( R) Marshall
Rep. Joe Pickett (D) El Paso
Rep. Delwin Jones ( R) Lubbock
Rep. Robert Puente (D) San Antonio
Rep. Tracy King (D) Eagle Pass
Rep. Bob Griggs ( R) North Richland Hills
Rep. Pete Gallego (D) Alpine
Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) Dallas
Rep. Carter Casteel (R) New Braunfels
Rep. David Farabee (D) Wichita Falls
Rep. Hubert Vo (D) Houston
Rep. Garnet Coleman (D) Houston
Rep. Chuck Hopson (D) Jacksonville
Rep. Craig Eiland (D) Galveston
Rep. Bob Hunter ( R) Abilene
Rep. Allan Ritter (D) Nederland
Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D) Dallas
Rep. Mark Homer (D) Paris
Rep. Donna Howard (D) Austin
Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) San Antonio
Rep. Juan Escobar (D) KIngsville
Rep. Richard Raymond (D) Laredo
Rep. Marc Veasey (D) Fort Worth
Rep. Rick Noriega (D) Houston
Rep. Stephen Frost (D) Atlanta
Rep. Jim McReynolds (D) Lufkin
Rep. Armando Martinez (D) Weslaco
Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) Houston
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) Austin
Rep. Lon Burnam (D) Fort Worth
Rep. Dora Olivo (D) Houston
Rep. David Leibowitz (D) San Antonio
Rep. Scott Hochberg (D) Houston
Rep. Norma Chavez (D) El Paso
Rep. Ana Hernandez (D) Houston
Rep. Ryan Guillen (D) San Diego
Rep. Alma Allen (D) Houston
Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) Houston
Rep. Mike Villarreall (D) San Antonio
Rep. Yvonne Davis (D) Dallas
Rep. Abel Herrero (D) Corpus Christi
Rep. Aaron Pe a (D) Edinburg
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D) San Antonio
Rep. Terry Hodge (D) Dallas
Rep. Jose Menendez (D) San Antonio
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) San Antonio
Rep. Paul Moreno (D) El Paso
Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) Port Arthur
Rep. Chente Quintanilla (D) El Paso


After the release of the letter initiated by Rep. Haggerty, Rep. John Davis ( R Houston)pulled together 30 legislators, all Republicans, to sign a letter supporting the discredited callcenter plan and the contract with Bermuda-based Accenture. The letter claims that the call center system "provides Texans with new channels ofaccess," and that it "has handled more than 2.8 million phone calls" and "processed more than 6.8 million documents and mailed more than 1.5 million pieces of correspondence." The letter does not address the plummeting number of Texans who successfully navigate the system and begin to receive benefits or the 12,000-case backlog that has been transferred from the callcenters to state employees. It does concede that "the new system has experienced challenges." (Experienced challenges? Wow, is that what they tell clients in their area that call their office for help in navigating the system? "oh, I'm sorry Jane Doe- I realize you have no money to feed your kids, you must understand that the new system is simply 'experiencing challenges' and unfortunately, you will just have to wait until these problems are worked out-school will be starting soon, and your kids can at least get two meals there!"

Signers of the letter supporting the Accenture contract:
John Davis ( R -Houston)
Jim Pitts ( R -Waxahachie)
Suzanna Gratia Hupp ( R -Lampassas)
Warren Chissum ( R -Pampa)
David Swinford ( R -Amarillo)
Beverly Wooley ( R -Houston)
Dan Gattis ( R -Georgetown)
Robert Talton ( R -Pasadena)
Ruben Hope Jr. ( R -Conroe)
Fred Brown ( R -Bryan)
Bill Callegari ( R -Houston)
Bill Keffer ( R -Dallas)
Joe Nixon ( R -Houston)
Jerry Madden ( R -Plano)
Buddy West ( R -Odessa)
Ken Paxton ( R -McKinney)
Rob Eisler ( R -The Woodlands)
Jim Jackson ( R -Carrollton)
Betty Brown ( R -Athens)
Bill Zedler ( R -Arlington)
Larry Taylor ( R -League City)
Leo Berman ( R -Tyler)
Corbin Van Arsdale ( R -Houston)
Debbie Riddle ( R -Houston)
Linda Harper-Brown ( R -Irving)
Mary Denny ( R -Flower Mound)
Glenda Dawson ( R -Pearland)
Jodie Laudenberg ( R -Rockwall)
Joe Driver ( R -Garland)
Valerie Corte ( R -San Antonio, temporary for Frank Corte)

**Blogger's Note: I encourage everyone to call or write your local representative and Thank them for their support (if they signed the letter) and if they signed the letter supporting Accenture, I encourage you to ask your representative to explain why they continue to support a failing system that hurts the poor in the State of Texas and is going to cost the taxpayers of Texas far more than necessary.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Retention Bonuses and other misc ramblings...

**For those of you who have not yet checked, your bonus "paycheck stub" is showing up on AccessHR- and should be in your bank account tomorrow.......
**In other HHSC office news- for those of you who are in an office that does not have security, are you finding that it is increasingly becoming necessary due to all the changes that have come about?
I know that in our local office, we do not have security- but we have had many instances of IRATE clients come in and I feel that it's a matter of time before something happens. 
We are doing all we can, and while I certainly see the problems from the standpoint of the clients- what more can we do?  I mean, we cannot help it that an appointment is taking up to 3-4 weeks to get.  If we COULD see the clients any faster, we WOULD. 
Client complaints are increasing and what do you do?  Work til 9 and do the impossible, then the expectation is set?
That's the problem see- the "Powers that Be" say "get it done" and if we do, then they figure that there is no problem and if there is one, then the problem is in the local office and not the overall procedures. 
**Faxing pending information to TAA is an everyday all day duty- and now we are having clients come BACK into the local offices screaming at US that WE never did it- because when they call to check the status of their case, they are told WE never sent it.  However, we keep copies of everything faxed and the confirmation- so we have to dig through stacks and stacks of papers just to prove to the clients that we did in fact send the information and the information they are given by TAA is incorrect.  Imagine being stuck in that loop while waiting on help to feed your kids or pay your rent........
This was supposed to be easier?  For who?  The clients?  Hardly. 
**As far as money savings, where is that?  Because any savings that they THOUGHT they would see is going into overtime, hotel bills, food bills, and mileage for all the workers statewide that are being sent to the call centers, and to other local offices across the state that have dwindled to NOTHING and need help desperately.  Guess what happens to the office that the worker was sent out of?  It is now short a worker. 
**I would have never, in my 15 years of state employment, would have ever dreamed that the offices would be in this condition.  As it stands- even if all this was stopped and done away with- it would STILL take 2-3 years (if not more) to get the local offices back on track.  How sad.

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Friday, July 07, 2006


Sorry for not being has been, well- crazy- and I've worked late everyday- by the time I get home, I'm beat.

The speeding implosion of local offices continues to spiral down faster than we thought it would. Just a month ago, we were still holding on and "ok". Now? We have stacks and stacks of applications that need to be scheduled, and more coming in faster than we can take them. What is also happening are workers are so stressed and overburdened that they just call in sick sporadically. Usually this happens when they are scheduled a full load for that day- and everyone else is to. So you know what happens to those applications? Well, they can't be worked in because there is nowhere to put them. So they go back to that worker to deal with when they come back to work. Meanwhile, clients are calling wanting to know why they haven't been called for their appointments. Front line staff are the ones bearing the brunt of the frustration that clients have. I don't blame the clients at all. I mean, at this point they are waiting anywhere from 3-4 weeks to get an appointment, and then no one is there to see them? It just goes round and round and makes it worse and worse. With or without a permanent placement in the "new system" virtually employees are seeking work somewhere else. What will become of our offices if we lose another 50% of the staff we have left? 75%?

Changes aren't being entered timely, or worked timely. Timeliness is falling off the charts in every area of what we do. Yet, we still will get emails from 'those up above' telling us that the problem with timeliness is not acceptable and something must be done. But what, exactly- can be done?

What the public has to realize is that the worse the system gets in Texas, the more likely Texas will be sanctioned by the Feds. Sanctions not only mean loss of funding from FNS, but it also means fines to be paid TO FNS. I'm talking MILLIONS of dollars that the State of Texas will have to pay out of their funds for this mass chaos occuring.

How bad will this get? I can totally see this fiasco being another reason to bring a State Income Tax to Texans.

Rumor also has it that HHSC is not being completely cooperative with records requests that have been made by the Comptroller's office. Rather than full disclosure, it's been said that pieces are sent, little by little. Could it be that the Powers that Be are hoping that nothing comes of the audit until AFTER the elections in the Fall?


Indiana Caseworker Comment! Welcome to those readers/workers from other states!

Indiana Caseworker: Caseloads running around 400 in our office. Lots of pressure from management now. After working more than 25 years I have accumulated around 100 vacation days but as you said, if you use them you just get that much more behind. I will probably lose most of them when we privatize. Privatization was to start July 1 but has now been delayed a few months. Thanks for this website as I have been very interested in what is happening elsewhere. Accenture is one of two companies bidding for eligibility jobs. We are working under pressure of some court orders on timeliness of medicaid disability applications that is a tracking nightmare but it has speeded up processing. We are losing employees that aren't being replaced. With training it takes a good year to get someone fairly independent and up to a full caseload if they survive that long.No overtime allowed here and the bargaining agreement was thrown out with the change in governor last year so the union has no power. The caseworkers who have TANF and FS Impact(work program) have much lower caseloads and higher pay in our office. Child Protection has now been totally separated from eligibility.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Comments from Kansas......

Checking in from another state. Same situation here in Kansas. They're referring to it some "leadership" circles as a "high performance environment". The people purportedly running the show have no clue what it takes to process a case.We've been put in "IST's" or Integrated Service Teams where we are now co-located with the Child Support worker and a social worker. The social workers were recently "upgraded" some 3 pay levels and are making, easily, $5,000.00 more per year than those of us who process TANF, Child Care, Medical, etc. benefits and case manage. I have no clue why.

The great thing about the IST is the fact we get to see how little the social workers actually do, aside from plugging in headphones and using the CD-rom on their computers to listen to music: they're seldom on the phone; no longer are responsible for foster care case mgmt., and maybe have a handful of investigations. I grant you it may be different in larger offices; but then so is the cash and foodstamp environment in those larger offices: They're like war zones with "customers" who scream the loudest getting the most "services".

Rather than focusing on those TANF clients who want to get a job, this state spends most of it's time with those who do not and do whatever they can to avoid "mandatory" job search matters. Everyone is so afraid of being reported to the "customer service" unit (who don't do diddly from what can be seen from the battle ground) that the proverbial squeaky wheel gets all the attention while others simply wait.Top the above with the fact that one entire section of the state was caught manipulating application dates in the computer system to force timeliness on FS applications (when they were processed and were to be untimely, the application date was changed in the computer data base to make it appear as timely). 100% of the randomly pulled cases had had their app dates falsified.

And another:

It is not possible to work more than 40 hours per week in this state, Kansas, irrespective of how many applications or reviews one has. If you don't get it done in your 40 hour work week, you're in the cross hairs of those who make the big money and give themselves all pats on the back annual pay hikes. Kansas is in a "high performance" environment. People sink or swim and more and more are sinking. Case assignment is in constant flux as people quit or are released. There is no union to speak of in Kansas given this is a right to work state. Training? New staff have a "performance improvement" staff member "sit" with them for a bit of time, and then the case load is turned over to the new hire. I don't know about Texas, but in Kansas it takes upwards of two years to know what you're sort of doing. Kansas is essentially "generic" in that staff process TANF, FS, childcare, healthcare, work programs.

Staff do the intake and work the case from that point forward It is impossible to use annual leave because if one does, the toll of backed up work negates the vacation: It's there waiting for you when you get back...nobody is assigned diddly boo except the most "urgent" of matters (read that as a "consumer" who has screamed the most....). It's gotten so bad that staff actually have to lose vacation time at the close of the state's fiscal year given they've accumulated all the state will allow. One upper management practice has been to have case application dates changed in the computer data base to avoid untimely processing stats to be worse than they already are. The USDA regional office has been noticed about the practice and thus far they've essentially shrugged their shoulders and said "They've said they won't do that anymore...". The embraced practice and documentation of same has just today been forwarded to USDA FNS staff in Washington. Think they'll care anymore than Kansas' regional office?