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Williamson counties and elsewhere for certain programs, was first mandated by the Legislature in 1999 to replace the outdated SAVERR system — which stands for System of Application, Verification, Eligibility, Referral and Reporting.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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