Saturday, December 22, 2007


See these:
Grits for Breakfast Blog Posting- talks about Gregg Phillips and Wohlgemuth .... a comment on there said to try this search in Google to see what comes up- so here ya go:
Google Search for Phillips and Wohlgemuth...HERE are the results.  Interesting.

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Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to send out a Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to all my fellow HHSC Employees.  What you do is important, and we are all doing the best we can under the circumstances.  Here's to hoping that the time off over the Holidays will refresh each and every one of you and here's to hoping 2008 sees some changes in our Agency for the better and overall changes for Texas. 

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Good Comment

Saw this in comments and thought it deserved to be on the page so no one missed it:
Demand on food banks reflects lack of adequate benefits through "safety net" programs
The news has been filled with stories of food pantries and soup kitchens that are struggling to meet the growing problem of hunger. These groups are frequently staffed with volunteers and depend on donations. They deserve our gratitude. The growing demand on food banks reflects the failure of our elected officials to provide adequate benefits through “safety net” programs. What happened to the safety net of Food Stamps, Supplemental Social Security Income and TANF cash assistance? These programs were intended to meet the basic needs of low income citizens. It is extremely distressing to see that the official government policy for feeding hungry people is to rely on the charity of food pantries and soup kitchens.

Forty years ago the Food Stamp program was established to end hunger in America. Yet, it was only designed to provide 75% of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined necessary to meet minimum nutritional needs. Poor families were expected to make up the rest with cash. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible for those who must rely on SSI or TANF. The payment levels for these programs are very low. It is difficult for these people to find extra cash to buy food when they spend every dime available for rent, utilities, and other essentials. As a result our food pantries must deal with constant demands from people who are already receiving help from the safety net.

This is unconscionable. This is not the Depression. People need to be able to get their food from the grocery store and should not have to wait in lines to get a meal or box of food. We cannot continue to rely on the kindness of volunteers and donations to meet a responsibility that we all have towards our less fortunate neighbors. We must insist that our government officials ensure that our safety net does its job.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

TSEU News Bulletin from 11/8/07

The Texas State Auditor's Office released its report on TIERS in October.  The investigation was ordered by the Texas Legislature during the last session.
* TIERS can correctly determine eligibility and calculate benefits, but only when users have access to "other processes" that are NOT identified in the report.
* As of JUNE 2007, HHSC had spent at least $351.7 MILLION on TIERS, which is 61% of the TOTAL projected budget through 2010, and correcting the problems would cause many millions of dollars.
* Fundamental design flaws, described as "Poor architectural design and chronic problems," make TIERS slow, ineffecient, and overly complex.  Inefficient use of data storage and processing capacity will require massive system expansion.
* TIERS could not handle statewide rollout without correction of flaws and massive expansion.
Among the Details:
Eligibility staff could encounter more than 250 screens (of the total 1059 screens in the system) in working a SINGLE case.
TIERS was not designed as a relational database system, a basic design flaw that makes the system inefficient, increases requirements for data storage, and makes data integrity questionable.
FOR further information, please go to  I'd encourage any state employee out there to join the union. 

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Texans waiting for food stamps, other programs"

Texans waiting for food stamps, other programs
Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American Statesman
Applications for food stamps and other programs are backlogged across Texas because there aren't enough state workers trained to process cases in the TIERS computer system, state officials acknowledged Tuesday.
The percentage of food stamp applications processed on time in October was the lowest since January. Texas continues to add cases to the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System despite a recent warning from the state auditor that the software is not ready for use beyond a Central Texas pilot region.
Yes, and they are going to continue adding until a "rollout" regardless of what the state auditors says becomes necessary once ALL cases end up in TIERS.
The delays are worst in Central Texas . For example, of the 25,417 Austin-area food stamp applications handled in October, a third of them did not get processed within the 30 days required by the federal government. Statewide, 14.1 percent of food stamp applications were processed late in October, the most recent month for which statistics are available.
The sad thing about this is in Austin, word is the workers are having to see anywhere from 20 to 30 appointments PER DAY.  With the policy and complexity of the dynamics of various families- this all but guarantees that the cases aren't being looked at like we would back when 10 per day was considered too many.  When you are seeing that many each day, there is no time left "in between" appointments to complete other cases where information has been provided after the interview.  This also causes workers to have to work late, work weekends, come in early- each and every day just to stay somewhat on top of their game.  The lost voices in this ARE the workers, given that no one seems to realize that while we are employees of the state of texas, we are ALSO mothers, fathers, caregivers, etc at home.  By the time some workers GET home, it's late and time to go to bed to get up early and do it again.  This is the reason staffing is the way it is.  You cannot expect a worker (especially in a major city like Austin,TX) to stay in this mess rather than go somewhere else.  It is wrong when it comes to the clients that are having to wait, and it's wrong when it comes to the workers who are breaking their backs trying to do the best job they can do.
"There is very clearly a TIERS workload issue," said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission. "We're trying to staff up. We do think that with additional staff ... we'll get through this hump."
It seems as though for every extra worker that gets hired, 2 have left.  The starting pay for caseworkers is not enough or does not match the level of work they have to do.  Yes, they are being paid overtime- but this is not a guarantee that it will always be that way.  Historically, the State NEVER paid overtime, but rather would convert any hours worked over 40 in a week into time and half VACATION/COMP time.  I can assure anyone out there who questiosn this that many of the workers suffering through this right now would not be if they were to end the paying of overtime. 
She couldn't say exactly how many people are waiting. The backlogs, she said, are due in part to the addition of statewide cases from a new women's health program. State Auditor John Keel warned last month that TIERS is cumbersome.
"Every day, more and more cases are being put into TIERS ... without an infrastructure to deal with those cases," said Katie Romich of the Texas State Employees Union. "Workers are frustrated."
Rumor has it that ART staff across the state that are having to interview those clients NOT in pilot areas but who ARE in the TIERS system are seeing clients 40-60 days after the client applied.  Mind you, as has been said on this blog before and is mentioned in this article, Food Stamp FEDERAL POLICY is very clear- a client MUST be certified or denied no later than 30 days from the date they filed their application.  Obviously, this is not happening.
About 3.7 million Texans are enrolled in food stamps, Medicaid (a federal-state health insurance program) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. All the programs are affected by the delays.
Demetria Johnson, an Austin mother of two, said she tried to renew food stamps in June. She's still waiting.
"I do get paid weekly, but it's still hard for me to buy groceries," said Johnson, 28, who said she earns $9 an hour at a department store. "I fall off on the other bills."
Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said, "It's really not acceptable to tell someone they have to wait for months to put food on the table."
TIERS, envisioned by the Legislature in 1999, is a Web-based system meant to modernize the state's 1970s-era enrollment software.
"TIERS does so much more than the current system does," Goodman said. "Not to mention, it's technology we can actually support going into the future."
In January, the state debuted the Texas Women's Health Program, which provides gynecological exams and birth control to 70,000 low-income women. State workers have used TIERS to process the case of any woman who applies for that program — and anyone in her household who seeks food stamps, Medicaid or temporary family assistance.
"The thing that has been somewhat of a surprise is how many of those women and their families have applied for other services," Goodman said.
Surprised?  No, the surprise came to them when they realized that by applying for that program it threw ALL their cases in TIERS.  I cannot tell you how many clients have asked local office staff that are not housed in the pilot area to please switch them BACK to the old system, and please get their cases OUT of TIERS.  These women aren't people who have never been on benefits who suddenly get on WHP and then start applying for everything we offer.  No.  Many clients are very frustrated in their dealings with 2-1-1 and will continue to be as long as the 'status quo' remains.
Adding 50,000 foster care cases to TIERS this year had an impact, Goodman said.
And what exactly was the justification in adding all those cases?  Pilot area is struggling to keep up, so what better way to fix that?  Oh, let's add about 50,000 more cases to TIERS.  So now if a child has been in foster care goes home and has to be added to their families case, it now throws all of THOSE cases into TIERS. 
The Children's Health Insurance Program, which serves 341,000, is scheduled to be added to TIERS next year.
Any idea how many clients we have who receive Food Stamps and also CHIP?  This will throw their FOOD STAMP case into TIERS as well.  Local office staff OUTSIDE of the pilot area are not equipped to deal with the large numbers of TIERS clients that this will create.  Since the Feds have told them to not rollout- this is the State's way of doing it anyway.  Instead of a controlled rollout by county, this will just add thousands of cases "undercover". 
"Until we have eliminated every bug in TIERS," said state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, "we don't need to be integrating anything into it."
Unfortunately, they are going to increase the TIERS clients.  And the local offices will, in turn, begin losing people again.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

This was in comments.....I've colored "extra comments" by the comment leaver in red.

Even though the State is sending every person they can to TIERS training now that it has opened up again, and even though they have alsomst 500,000 folks back doored into their system even though the feds said no more roll out, the new system IS NOT guaranteed. This was from the Houston Chronicle the other day. My comments have been inserted:
Auditor: Pricey state computer system flawed
Agency defends health, welfare unit as reliable
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — A computer system, which has cost Texas taxpayers more than $350 million over the past eight years, remains plagued with problems and isn't ready to handle statewide processing of health and welfare benefits, the state auditor's office said Thursday.
(We that are there already knew this)
The Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS, was established by the Legislature in 1999 to improve access to benefits and services.
It now serves 430,000 welfare, food stamps and Medicaid clients each month, mostly in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties in Central Texas.
(The numbers were bolstered by the Womens Health Program, Foster Care kids and Old cases from all over the state being transferred to the TIERS system, without federal approval)
Auditors didn't find any significant errors in how eligibility was determined and benefits were calculated in the cases they studied.
(Significant? What determines a significant error?)
But, they concluded, the Health and Human Services Commission "will need significant additional processing capacity and storage to support a statewide rollout of TIERS," including the addition of the Children's Health Insurance Program, scheduled for March.
(And rumor has it that SSI cases handled through state office are being switched to TIERS starting in Jnurary)
CHIP will add about 325,000 active and 650,000 inactive clients to the system, the report said.
(Why are they adding inactive clients?)
It also criticized a "poor architectural design" that made the computer system cumbersome to use and hindered TIERS' ability to process and maintain the integrity of data. It also said DHS should consider streamlining its application process for public assistance, including the adoption of a shorter application form.
(Wouldn't this cause "significant" errors?)- HHSC Employee's note:  No, the longer application is so cumbersome and confusing, that clients who use it leave off important information all the time.  A shorter app (like the one we had- what, 4 pages?) that captured the most important information:  Who is in the household, where they live, what income they have, and what their expenses are- would be MUCH better.  A good worker doesn't need an application asking what the last grade completed in school was, what elementary school their kids go to, etc.  A good worker out there will ask those questions anyway.
DHS officials said they stood by the system and were happy with the audit's finding that, in the cases studied, TIERS had accurately processed welfare, Medicaid and food stamp claims.
They said some problems cited in the report already were being addressed.
Auditors said they tested a sample of 60 TIERS clients who received benefits between July 20 and Aug. 17.
They also reviewed client samples initially tested by DHS and KPMG, a private audit firm.
"We're pleased that the state auditor confirmed that TIERS works," said Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins.
(Apparently Al didn't read the first paragraph in the story.)
"The audit also reaffirmed a decision we made in 2004 to change the TIERS database design. We've completed that redesign, and we're continuing to implement other improvements recommended by the state auditor and our technology team."
(As per a TSEU broadcast "...As of September 20, 2007, there were 1373 outstanding "service requests," which are documented requests for changes in the system to ensure its accuracy or functionality. Only 155 of these have been analyzed, and it will cost approximately $27 million and take over 200,000 hours to correct them.
42 versions of TIERS have been released since January, but HHSC is not independently testing the functionality of the system. Instead, HHSC is depending  the contractor's reported testing results."
That is a whole lot of changes in two months, not real reaffirming.)
Hawkins said TIERS will be an important part of the state's transition to a new system that will allow Texans to apply for services in person, over the phone or Internet or by mail. He said TIERS can be adapted to meet those changes.
(I thought TIERS was the new system?)
The transition, so far, has been rocky. Earlier this year, the state canceled a contract with Texas Access Alliance, a group of contractors headed by Accenture, which had been hired in 2005 to operate call centers and process applications for CHIP.
The cancellation was prompted by backlogs and errors in processing applications.
(I personally know workers that are interviewing clients whose applications are past the 30 day time frame for foodstamp benefits. The case is considered to be delinquent before the client is even interviewed.)
HHSCEmployee:  Not only are the cases that are interviewed in TIERS more than 30 days old, in some cases they are 40-60 DAYS OLD.
According to the new audit, the TIERS application/database was down for more than 27 business hours in July during the contract transition period. DHS said the down time was unusual and had been reduced to only 19 minutes in September.
(19 minutes on what day?)
The auditor estimated that TIERS will need at least 230 additional computer processors and an unknown amount of additional storage for a statewide rollout of the system.
(Let's guess, a processor costs, say, 2000.00. You do the math.)
DHS spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said more than $2 million already has been budgeted for additional hardware. She said the addition of CHIP to the system will represent a major step in taking the system statewide.
(A major addition to the numbers race.)
But she said she didn't know when the process will be completed because federal approval will be required for some programs.
(Has this stopped them before?)
She said TIERS already serves about 12 percent of the state's health and human services caseload.
(What percent of of those are actually in the rollout areas?)
"It already has more cases than many other states have total," she said.
According to the audit, DHS' Office of Inspector General hasn't investigated potential criminal cases involving fraudulent claims or payments on the TIERS system since November 2004 or civil overpayment cases since April 2005.
(This is because there isn't any way for them to investigate. It was never set up so that they could be refferred or investigated through TIERS.)
DHS said the inspector general began conducting fraud investigations on TIERS cases last month and on civil overpayments in September.
(In name only. Word has it that they still can't investigate the cases in TIERS.)
The auditor recommended that DHS contract with the state Department of Information Services to provide guidance on the appropriate design and architecture for TIERS. The agency said it expects to complete an agreement with the information services agency next month.
(Ummm, the system is already desinged, right? That's were all that money went four or five years ago?)
The audit noted that DHS' application for public assistance was 11 pages long, based on state and federal requirements. Some other states, it said, have shorter, more streamlined applications.
(Operative phrase - "based on state and federal requirements."
The report included the draft of a suggested, four-page enrollment form. But the auditor noted that, unless supplemented with additional information, the suggested application would require DHS to obtain "at least 25 waivers from federal regulations."

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State still lags in processing human services benefits

State still lags in processing human services benefits

Web Posted: 09/21/2007 10:56 PM CDT
Janet Elliott
Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — Texas is still struggling with slow processing times for social service benefits and overburdened phone lines as it unwinds a failed privatization contract, health and human services officials said at a public hearing Friday.
They outlined plans for several smaller private contracts in the coming three years as the state continues transitioning to call centers where people apply over the phone for a host of state and federal benefits.
But state employees criticized the plan, saying it would be better to hire more state workers for local offices where people apply for benefits in person.
"We're deeply concerned about plans to continue to contract out" work related to determining whether Texas families qualify for food and medical assistance, said Jerry Wald, a member of the Texas State Employees Union.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is developing the next steps in the transition to a new eligibility system. In March the state ended a troubled contract with Accenture, an outsourcing company the state had hired in 2005 to operate call centers and process applications for the Children's Health Insurance Program.
State eligibility workers were notified that their jobs were slated for elimination, and many found other jobs.
The privatization effort was beset by complaints of delays in enrollment and problems getting applications processed. Enrollment in CHIP dropped sharply, and HHSC officials quickly ended a pilot program using call centers to screen for a variety of government programs in Central Texas.
The state plans to award a contract next May for CHIP processing and call center operations. Future contracts will be awarded for a document-processing center, enrollment broker services and computer support.
The state auditor's office is reviewing HHSC's implementation of the 2003 integrated eligibility law that led to the Accenture contract. The audit also is reviewing a computer system known as TIERS that has been blamed for enrollment problems.
Anne Heiligenstein, deputy executive commissioner for social services, told an HHSC advisory council that the results of the audit will help the commission decide how to move forward.
TIERS, which is Web-based, will create electronic records and make it easier for state workers to check for fraud, Heiligenstein said.
But critics say the system hasn't worked properly since it was introduced in 1999. The HHSC inspector general said last year that investigators were unable to check for fraud and overpayments in food-stamp and other benefit programs in the two Central Texas counties where it is being used.
HHSC records show timeliness in processing food-stamp and Medicaid applications in the region using TIERS is lower than in any other region of the state. The gap is enough to make the entire state out of compliance with federal food-stamp processing requirements.

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I've been gone, but I'm not done with this site!

Note sure if anyone is still coming here....I've had some major things going on and am now again at a point where I can rev this engine up again.
There are many things to disclose- one being that although the Feds all but told HHSC to HALT any type of rollout into TIERS- it is still going on via the "Women's Health Program" and local office ART staff are bearing the brunt.
Clients are waiting anywhere from 40-60 days for their cases to be SCHEDULED, much less worked.
It's a true blue mess.
Please, send me things that I can post- don't care how old it is, it's just time to get it out there.

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