Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Despite federal OK, Texas delays computer system expansion

My comments in RED

Despite federal OK, Texas delays computer system expansion

Legislature increasing oversight of TIERS system used to enroll Texans in food stamps, Medicaid.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Texas recently got federal permission to expand use of a controversial public assistance enrollment system beginning this month, but Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins has agreed not to do so — at least for now.

Shock! Stop the PRESSES! Is this the SAME Mr. Hawkins that has DEFIED instructions in the PAST to not continue putting clients in this system? Really? All of a sudden, now that the Women's Health Program has thrown THOUSANDS of households in TIERS, he's willing to not "expand"? I'm dumbfounded. And curious- what "politics" are at play here?

Hawkins said this week that he'll abide by a legislative request that the commission first establish — and meet — a series of goals before expanding use of the computer system known as TIERS. That stands for Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System.

Of course! Now that the state is in TURMOIL with TIERS. Very interesting INDEED.

Federal officials have been concerned about expanding TIERS, in part because Texas has struggled to process food stamp cases as quickly as required.

No, really? It's been like that since DAY ONE. Of COURSE food stamp cases take longer. The system itself is long. Laborous. What used to take a worker 30 minutes to do can take HOURS to do if TIERS isn't cooperating. That is NO exaggeration.

"No expansion of TIERS will be undertaken prior to the benchmarks being established," Hawkins wrote in a letter to lawmakers this week. "As a result, we will not begin rollout in July 2008."

So am I to assume that the State will ALSO stop loading clients into this system via WHP?

The request to Hawkins from state Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs and chairman of the House Committee on Human Services, stems from a new law requiring legislators to more carefully scrutinize the state's work enrolling Texans in programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The legislation created a committee "to maintain oversight, hold the commission accountable and ensure to Texans that TIERS was being expanded in a prudent manner," Rose said. "It's important for Texas taxpayers and to those eligible for all critical services."

Rose has asked Hawkins to propose specific benchmarks later this summer to the oversight committee. The goals may include ensuring that there is adequate staff trained in TIERS, according to a letter Hawkins wrote to Rose.

Adequately trained? What does that mean exactly? You mean, more workers ON PAPER that have BEEN to training? Because that does not equate "adequately trained". No. It takes at LEAST 6 months of WORKING on TIERS to fully grasp alot of the nuances that go with the system. Mind you, the training is TWO WEEKS LONG and does NOT cover things that happens in the "real world". Training in TIERS is a BREEZE because hey! all the cases work like they are supposed to!

The state has had trouble processing food stamp applications in TIERS as quickly as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — 30 days — in part because there aren't enough workers trained in TIERS. Texas has struggled to retain employees who enroll Texans in public assistance.

Yes, and you know why? Because for too long, no one has ever listened to the actual people in the field that have to do these cases. Too many chiefs, not enough indians. Period.

"The combination of not enough staff trained well enough and too many cases coming into TIERS and the fact that it takes longer to process a case in TIERS than (the old system) is a recipe for disaster when it comes to timeliness," said Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which aims to help low- and middle-income Texans. "The whole reason we have a standard is that people who go to get food stamps are people in an emergency situation."

In April, 49.2 percent of Texas food stamp applications processed using TIERS were completed on time, compared to 92.6 percent processed in the old system in the same period.

Anyone in the field could have told you this. We've been screaming about this since all this started. Is it any wonder that there is a difference? The old system, "old" as it may be, got the JOB DONE.

This week, USDA officials gave final approval to the state's plan to expand TIERS. They told Hawkins in May that Texas could expand it, but only to 22 percent of food stamp cases because "far too many approvals remain untimely."

About 9 percent of cases are now in TIERS, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said. About 2.3 million Texans are on food stamps.

I find that 9% questionable. There are offices that haven't "rolled out" that are closer to 30%. Austin is 100% TIERS and the timeliness there is beyond bad. Not the fault of the workers at all, it's the system. It's double edged, because you throw workers through basic policy training, then give them TIERS for 2 weeks, then they go to the field. Depending on the state of the office they are in, they may get to gradually amp up to full caseload, but in many offices the need is too great to do that slowly, the way it should be. So you fully schedule them, it becomes impossible to keep up with and they quit. Sad thing is, it's the "worker" that gets all the heat when it comes to timeliness. It's never ever because the expectation is too high. You know why? Because the "decision makers" have NEVER EVER BEEN A FULLTIME CASEWORKER IN TIERS. They simply do NOT know.

cmaclaggan@statesman.com; 445-3548

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Anonymous said...

i heard region 4 was rolling out 080108.

Anonymous said...

Hawkins got the crap scared outta him when he had a gadjillion cases being converted to TIERS, and nobodyto work the cases. They recruited by hook and crook, and when nobody else wanted to jump ship and go to ART, they started stripping offices of thier tenured SAVERR workers. They weren't getting the training that they needed, and were not working cases correctly. They had a brilliant idea to send workers to a four week tour of duty in a "cluster." (Not named a call center, even though they were in a room with tables and chairs, with computers and poones, call applicants one after the other for 8 hours a day.) Then they realised that there were actually cases getting done, that they were making some headway. Now, these same workers that were doing 6 to 8 applications and reviews a day in TIERS are only able to do maybe four or 5 because they have to try to keep up with their SAVERR cases also. The timeliness has started to suffer. Accountability is non existent in TIERS ... for now. Timeliness is about to become THE big issue for anyone working TIERS cases, and the SAVERR clients are going to be cast off. Very few client complaints are ever escalated to the point of actually being from the "hot line." Most are dealt with on the local level after the RD asks the PM to ask the Supervisor to get a worker to fix the case. Every client complaint that comes in for a SAVERR case will be like another nail in the coffin, and there will be more as SAVEER loses more workers. The powers that be will use every instance of a SAVERR delinquency or error issueing benefits to show the "inadequacy" of the old system. People now working in both SAVERR and TIERS are going to be removed from SAVERR duties completely in order to have them keep the TIERS cases in line. It's going to get worsse before it gets better.