Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Opinion: Modernizing Texas Social Services

State Rep. Suzanna Hupp
Special to the Austin American-Statesman
Want to take a trip back to the 1970s? Try visiting your local Food Stamps office. You'll find row after row of filing cabinets, computer screens with flashing neon green cursors and an occasional typewriter.
What office still has the computers with flashing neon green cursors?  I'm sorry, but I believe I have a new Dell computer (well, 3-4 years old)......could she be talking about the old Packard Bells?  I think those screens were orange.  And typewriters?  That's going back to the 70's?  I know that our office has ONE typewriter in the office that rarely, if ever, gets used.  BUT, it's there in case we need it for anything.  OH!  And if I'm not mistaken- I believe that cases were actually done on PAPER in the 70's.   I wasn't clear that DHS was so "Advanced" in the 70's that we were the ONLY agency with computers.....
It's definitely time for an upgrade.
Yes it is- and let's not act like IT didn't know that SAVERR (the ancient system that "seems to be able to get things done") COULD be converted to a web based program and upgraded.
Recently, in a letter to Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins, a number of my colleagues in the Texas Legislature and I reaffirmed our support for modernizing the eligibility system for programs such as Medicaid and Food Stamps. The massive overhaul of an antiquated system has not been easy. But it is necessary.
For years there has been an outcry for change to the system. Taxpayer dollars were being exhausted by a very labor-intensive system that cannot keep up with rising caseloads.
The new system will modernize the state's computer systems and business processes. It also will allow Texans to choose how they want to apply for services — in person, by phone (FNS still requires a signature to process an application for food stamps, so applying over the phone does nothing more than delay when their case gets started), over the Internet or by fax. These new options are being piloted in four offices in Travis and Hays counties. Although not off to an ideal start, these changes ultimately will make it easier for people to apply for services.
During a recent public hearing, a witness explained to lawmakers that she had to drive 30 minutes to a state office to simply pick up a children's Medicaid application (we would have mailed her one, all she has to do is call). This meant hiring someone to watch after her elderly mother and taking her 33-year-old autistic daughter and 10-year-old grandson with her to the office. When she arrived to the "extremely hot and overcrowded" office, she took number 99, only to discover they were on number 30. (the office is overcrowded now that most of the tenured staff has left after getting a layoff notice, and the people left are doing all they can to keep their heads above water) Because of her autistic daughter's reaction to strange environments, she finally had no other option but to leave the enrollment office, no better off than when she had arrived.
We must make it easier for Texans to apply for the services they need. (Had she gotten her application by mail, and then sent it back, the Children's Medicaid would have been done WITHOUT an interview even being required and her not having to come to the office again.)
In 2005, a statewide poll of Texas benefit recipients found that clients wanted more options, including the ability to apply by phone or Internet from the privacy of their own homes, when applying for benefits.  (Again, the clients that are now in the TIERS program - the one that DOESN'T work - are wishing we'd go BACK to the 'old' way, so that they could actually get their benefits...but I digress.)
In the new system, Texans still will be able to apply in person at one of more than 200 offices across the state in addition to the new methods. The system also uses technology and streamlined business processes to reduce costs.
All incoming and outgoing correspondence is scanned and saved to create an electronic case file that can be accessed from any state benefits office. That means that clients who move won't have to wait for their case files to catch up with them.
The modernization of the Texas social service system has drawn fire, some of which has been justified by issues discovered in the pilot phase. The state has been working closely with the contractor, the Texas Access Alliance, to address those problem areas before expanding the pilot to other regions.
But Texans should not forget where we came from — a system that caused frustration for the clients who depended on it and the state workers who administered it (State workers that administered it?  What is that supposed to mean?  That we were part of the problem?  Wow- to think all that hard work, and all that enhanced funding that the "state workers" worked so hard for- enhanced funding money that went straight to the GENERAL FUND...yes, let's not forget where we came from). We have made considerable progress in this worthwhile endeavor, and we are on track to provide Texas with a better social services eligibility system.
(If you would like to email Ms. Hupp and give her your thoughts on this article, click below and it will go straight to her page..........leave a comment if you do contact her.....)

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Anonymous said...

I don't know why, when I read these comments, I feel so old. I get up every morning and take my horse and buggy to the office that I occupy with my fellow dinosaurs while we take our pickaxes and chip away at our mountains of work. It's funny how these images that they try to evoke do not come close to matching the reality.

Anonymous said...

We are such idiots here. Why are we still here? Can somebody tell me?
I am so tired of being bashed by reps, hhsc people and clients. This is getting disgusting.
I think they are just trying to get us down, so then we will fail, and they will have to go through with their plan because all of us are "Desserters".
Anybody Agree?

Anonymous said...

I just wrote her...I don't even work for the agency anymore and it disgusts me.