Saturday, February 23, 2008


Wow, here's a BLAST FROM THE PAST......too bad those days are LONG GONE.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Raise? woohoo?

You know, we all got an email the other day about "raises" that we will be getting this summer.
Woohoo!  That 5% is a start, but you know, it's not going to "solve" the problem like HHSC is hoping it will.  You can pay someone more money, but if it doesn't reduce the workload and expectations (BE TIMELY BY GOD OR YOU GET COACHED, never mind that you are having to do the work of 2-3 because TIERS?  Takes a WHOLE lot longer to work a case than the "old world" system, SAVERR) then the raise won't help.  I realize that the state is trying to hire and get new workers trained.  I get that.  I also know that to be a GOOD worker, it takes about a YEAR of doing cases to get really comfortable with all the ins and outs of the system.  So if you have an office where 80% of the workers have 2 years or less of tenure, then you aren't able to produce like we did back in the day when ALL our workers were fairly tenured (5+ years). 
Not to mention that caseloads are INCREASING while all this is going on. 
You can throw money at this all day, and it's not going to change the fact that TIERS is still around, and cases are being backdoored into the system EVERY DAY.  We do NOT have enough workers out there to handle the influx of cases into the TIERS system statewide. 
I cannot express enough how much the clients HATE this program.  Those not in Austin or Round Rock that are in TIERS are interviewed by someone from anywhere in the state.  No local worker to talk to, no local worker to hand information to.  They can't even get a worker's number from 2-1-1 if they forget to ask for it during an interview.
I feel sorry for the workers in ART (Assistance Response Team- the workers who are TIERS training statewide that handle the cases that aren't in the pilot area).  These workers are stacked UP everyday, and every single case they touch is delinquent when they get it.  By the time they get to do an interview, the client is BEYOND frustrated and all that anger is taken out on the worker.  In the "old days", a client had a local worker and things were handled on a LOCAL level.  You just cannot outsource or privatize the benefit that comes from local people handling a case for a local client.  You just CANNOT. 
So for all my fellow HHSC employees- I hope the raise helps a little. 
Especially when you are having to work late in the evenings and on weekends to just stay caught up.
I KNOW how hard it is.  I do. 

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Texans Waiting Longer for FOOD STAMPS

Texans waiting longer for food stamps

To Texans applying for food stamps, it may not seem to matter whether their application goes through the state's old computer enrollment system or the newer one.
But new state data show that fewer than half of Texas food stamp applications processed using the updated computer system, known as TIERS, are completed within the 30 days required by the federal government. TIERS average of 48 percent of applications within 30 days is significantly lower than the 90 percent under the old system, SAVERR.
That 48 percent — which is from December, the last month available — represents a steady decline from last summer. The federal standard is 95 percent. See page 26 of this report.
Timeliness is also an issue for Medicaid applications.
"If we are that abysmally low on meeting federal timeliness requirements," State Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, told state health officials during a Capitol hearing today, "it makes sense to figure out what those kinks are before we begin to expand (TIERS) further."
But TIERS expansion is already under way. About 350,000 cases for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid are in TIERS, compared to about 150,000 a year ago, Rose said.
High staff turnover is one of the main reasons for the backlogged applications, state officials said. Attrition of employees who enroll Texans in food stamps and Medicaid has tripled since 2003, state officials said.
The Health and Human Services Commission today announced a plan to hire more state workers and to give existing employees raises.
"We recognize that we have got to make a serious infusion and fast" in the number of state workers who can handle TIERS cases, said deputy executive commissioner Anne Heiligenstein.
TIERS, which is now in use in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties and elsewhere for certain programs, was first mandated by the Legislature in 1999 to replace the outdated SAVERR system — which stands for System of Application, Verification, Eligibility, Referral and Reporting.
State auditor John Keel reported last year that because of chronic problems, TIERS is not ready to be used statewide.

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Friday, February 08, 2008


Anyone familiar with TIERS- can you email me? It's all anonymous. I disclose NOTHING. I just have some questions.

Food stamp proposal would force Texas shift

Food stamp proposal would force Texas shift (my comments in red)

By JASON EMBRY, CORRIE MacLAGGANWednesday, February 06, 2008

WASHINGTON — Texas would have to rework its plans to privatize food stamp enrollment under a proposal that is moving through Congress.

Language in a major farm bill approved by the House would bar states from allowing employees of private firms to interact with people who are applying for food stamps or to decide someone's eligibility for the program.

The author of that language, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., said it was inspired in part by problems in Texas, where some eligible families were improperly denied food stamps, Medicaid and cash assistance during a 2006 privatization test in the Austin area.

"The disastrous attempt to privatize food stamps in Texas was a large reason behind my anti-privatization provision in the House farm bill," Baca said. "The Texas project was a complete fiasco."

Although Texas canceled what was originally a five-year, $899 million contract with Accenture LLP to run call centers enrolling people in services, the state did not abandon its plans for private call centers. Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins has said privatization will save the state money and give Texans more ways to apply for services: by phone and online instead of just in person.

Here we go AGAIN with the "ways" to apply for benefits line. Hawkins loves it, doesn't he? Guess what? You can apply ONLINE OR BY PHONE EVERYDAY- but if your case either never gets worked, gets lost in the shuffle, takes 45 days to get an APPOINTMENT (like in ART), then applying "by phone" suddenly isn't so convenient.

A draft request for proposal that the state released in November would allow for private companies to enroll clients in food stamps in the future. The Baca proposal "would mean a change in our plan for food stamps," said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. "It does reduce the states' flexibility — and does potentially increase the cost — but we're certainly prepared to comply with whatever goes through."

Under Texas' new plan, state workers would continue to have the final say on who is eligible for food stamps, but employees of a private company would answer applicants' questions about the status of their case, Goodman said. That is the sort of contact Baca's proposal would prohibit.

A private company — Maximus Inc., a former subcontractor of Accenture — now answers food stamp application questions at call centers in Midland and Athens. Maximus handles applications for about 275,000 of the state's 2.35 million food stamp recipients, Goodman said. Most of the applications Maximus handles come from Central Texas.

And alot of the "questions" that the vendor answers for clients are answered WRONG. I cannot tell you HOW MANY CLIENTS end up the the local offices that have been told something totally completely wrong. I've SEEN some of the case comments left by TAA (Maximus? Whoever)- and let me tell you, state employees are having to go through alot of hell calming down clients who were told one thing, but policy states something else. Example: Client calls 2-1-1 to see if they can have an appointment sooner (let's say they are in ART, and right now- ART is scheduling appointments well into MARCH already)....2-1-1 tells the client to just go into the local office and apply for EMERGENCY food stamps if they want to be seen sooner. No, this is NOT correct. Clients LOSE benefits if they do this. I've seen more than I can post on this blog. But beleive me, clients get a much bigger RUN AROUND through the VENDOR (who do NOT know policy) then they EVER did in the local office.

She said the legislation is so broadly written that it may stop Texas' use of private workers to scan in documents and process mail.

The provision also may keep states from relying on private companies — or even nonprofits — to help prevent fraud, connect food stamp recipients with jobs or conduct nutrition education programs, said Larry Goolsby, director of legislative affairs for the American Public Human Services Association, a nonprofit organization of state agencies.

"There are many, many very innocent and helpful activities like that that this law would potentially bring to a complete halt," he said. The provision seems "to be very ill conceived to address what some are worried about going on in one or two states and in fact (would) have huge consequences for many, many states."

The House and Senate have each passed separate versions of the farm bill, but a conference committee that will work out a final bill has not yet been named. The Senate version does not include the privatization ban, but it calls for greater federal oversight when states make major changes to their programs, such as the push for call centers.

"I am committed to ensuring the anti-privatization provision stays in the final version of the farm bill," Baca said. "If we open the door for the privatization of food stamp administration, we risk putting sensitive information about millions of families into the hands of private companies, with no way to monitor how this data will be handled or protected."

But Mary Katherine Stout, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which supports limited government, said privatization has a long history of improving performance and that private companies have shown they can handle sensitive information. She said Texas' call center pilot demonstrated the importance of testing an ambitious effort. After initial problems — such as long hold times and call center representatives who couldn't answer applicants' questions — Accenture's performance improved, she said.

Ahh, of course Mary Katherine Stout would say that all these issues are improved. She's not a client having to navigate it either. She has no idea.

"It would be unfortunate to see the federal government close this option to Texas," Stout said.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, called Baca's proposal an attempt to please public-employee unions.

Please. Appease the unions? How about the employees? You know, the ONES ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK? What do you think the union is made of? Us. We are the ones who are completely overwhelmed. Totally without a doubt overwhelmed.

Privatization was a bad idea from the start. Field staff called it a long time ago. The years of service/knowledge that the state has lost in employees is staggering. No one has ever listened to US.

"Texas might have bitten off more than they could chew," Conaway said. "But to categorically eliminate the opportunity for outside help — helping government be more nimble and quicker and less expensive and more efficient — to me is just bad public policy."

But Celia Hagert of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for more spending on programs that aim to help low-income families, said states can still modernize their programs using public workers.

You know, the public workers in Texas are the ones who previously had the General Fund in Texas benefit in enhanced funding. Sure- change can be good. But, we had a fairly decent oiled machine across the state (the big cities- Houston, Austin, Dallas- have always and will always have a high turnover rate due to the opportunities in those places). We had tenured staff. We had good training. Not just initial training- we had supplemental trainings all the time that made workers better at their jobs. We had those who actually wanted to and planned to retire from the State. Not so much anymore.

"In general," Hagert said, "these types of functions are better performed by trained eligibility workers who don't have a conflict of interest, for whom the bottom line is making sure clients get benefits on time and that benefits are delivered accurately, and not the profit of their company."