Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Got this comment today on a fairly old post...wanted to respond.  First, the comment:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Texas health and human services chief to retire th...":

You fail to mention the abomination titled TIERS that is behind the entire crisis being experienced by the Agency. The Internet based program is far from user friendly and has caused much of the huge backlog of cases. I had planned to work an additional year or two but took retirement early in March of this year due to the stress brought on by a program that would not allow cases to be proceessed and even the "experts" could not clear. I had a call from the Agency today asking me to return to work. I told them to give me a call when the state decides to trash TIERS and return to the old, but functional, SAVERR program.

To which I say, I've said this many MANY times on this blog.  MANY.  Several.  Over and over and over again.  To which I say, I totally 100% AGREE.  In addition, it was ALSO Albert Hawkins that PUSHED the privatization scheme and TIERS.  He was HIRED to do so.   I'll never believe OTHERWISE. 


And let's not forget, as I've mentioned before- TIERS is a MONEY MAKER for Deloitte.  As long as the program doesn't work, then they make money....to "troubleshoot".  Think about it.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Food stamp woes grow with need

Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
San Antonio Express-News

Despite efforts to improve the system, food stamp applicants continue to face long delays in assistance amid a recession-fueled surge in demand.

In Bexar County, the state processed 22,463 more applications from March to September than it did in 2008. More than 210,000 people received $26 million in food stamps in October in the county, with the average family getting $322 a month. In the vast majority of households receiving food assistance - 82 percent - at least one person is employed.

Many have had to wait six months for their first food stamps. "We're just not keeping up," said Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. "We're processing more cases per month than we have before, but we just don't have enough workers. Our employees are ... exhausted and working extended hours. We need to give them a break, but there are still people lined up waiting for services."

State leaders recently said 250 more employees will be hired to process applications, with more to come. Goodman said she hoped to have 750 additional workers out in the field by next spring.
"We're planning to hire 150 to 250 per month, but of course all those additional people have to get desks, phones and computers. They all have to be trained, which takes time. So we probably won't be able to feel the affect until spring."

The backlog in qualifying people for food stamps has left many San Antonians frustrated. When Damian Perez and girlfriend Sandra Hernandez tried to get food stamps, they thought they had done everything right.

The application was arduous, requiring a raft of documents for verification. They brought in all the right forms. "Then they told us to come back on Monday," Perez said. They were asked for more documentation the next week, and the application was delayed several times. "The bottom line is it took us about six months to get the (Lone Star) card," said Perez, whose girlfriend since has found work. "All I want is for somebody to be accountable. I want somebody to say, 'We messed up.'"

Their experience is far from a quirk in the system: About 40 percent of Texans who apply for food stamp assistance aren't certified within the 30 days required by federal law.

Some go hungry "It's a humongous problem," said Renee Trevino, an attorney and group coordinator for public benefits with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, which helps people experiencing food stamp delays. "We've had clients who have just given up because it takes months and months for them to even get an interview."

In the absence of food assistance, she said, low-income people rely on food pantries or forgo paying rent or utilities. Sometimes, they go hungry.

Cyrus Orozco, who makes $100 a week washing dishes, was struggling to buy a $13 can of powdered milk to feed the youngest of his three children. When he applied for food stamps, he was told it would be six months before he could receive assistance.

"I just couldn't wait that long," he said. "My children had to be fed." He sought help from the Advocates Social Services of San Antonio, whose volunteers are experts at navigating the food stamp application. Within two days, he had his food stamp card.

Carlos Mata, head of the agency, said he sees about 100 clients a month who have found their food stamp application delayed or derailed. He said the average wait is three to four months. He claims some 3,700 Bexar County families are being unjustly delayed from getting food stamps.

Food bank depleted In the meantime, people seek help from places such as the San Antonio Food Bank, not only for emergency food but for assistance in applying for food stamps.

Eric Cooper, the food bank's executive director, said last month his organization processed about 3,500 applications. When there are delays, applicants come back to him for groceries.

"Our resources are being depleted at a much more rapid rate because of delays," he said. "Food banks across the state have felt this tidal wave of need. ... This business-as-usual approach has created a significant backlog."

Houston's state Rep. Jessica Farrar, chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, said complaints about the food stamp program make up the chief reason for calls to her office. She blames an attitude among some lawmakers that if you starve the program, the problem will go away.

"This is symptomatic not just of the food stamp program but mental health, children's health insurance, welfare," she said. "If you don't spend the money, then the problem doesn't exist. In Texas, we consistently turn away money that then goes to other states. That needs to change. We need to take care of Texans in need."

The food stamp program has been in trouble since the 1990s, said Celia Hagert, senior policy analyst for the Center of Public Policy Priorities, a group that helps low-income people. She said that in 2006, the state sought to privatize the food stamp program, a move that triggered a massive exodus of workers.

"We lost about a third of the work force, maybe closer to half," she said. The privatization program was put on hold, but the dearth in workers remained. "The system became overwhelmed, and since then we haven't met the federal standard," she said.

Food stamp workers share frustrations

Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American-Statesman

When the new head of the agency responsible for the state's backlogged food stamp applications sent an e-mail to employees asking for feedback about the agency, he got it.

About 500 state workers replied to Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs, telling him about low morale and low pay, poor management, technology problems, insufficient training, long hours away from their families. They wrote about feeling frazzled, crying on the drive to work and actively looking for other jobs.

"I have been with the agency 21 years and I have never seen it this bad," wrote Linda Perez, a supervisor in San Benito. "We can't work like this anymore. Morale is low but we come to work every day with the hope that things will get better."

The commission has struggled since experienced state employees started leaving in advance of a major privatization effort in 2005. And the current economic downturn has led to a sharp increase in applications, resulting in the longest wait times agency officials can remember - families routinely wait months - and drawing warnings from the federal government that if Texas doesn't start meeting 30-day processing deadlines, the state's food stamp aid will be in jeopardy.

To work through the backlog, many of the nearly 7,700 state employees known as eligibility workers are staying at the office into the evenings and coming in on weekends, putting in an average of 13 hours of overtime a week. In some cases, the overtime is mandatory.

"That is not sustainable," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who met with Suehs last week about the situation. Zaffirini, one of two senators tapped by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to monitor food stamps, added: "I didn't know that the eligibility staff are working 8 to 8 and on Saturdays. Well, of course there's a morale issue, and of course there's a turnover issue."

I'm sorry, but did she say she didn't know eligibility staff were working 8 to 8 and weekends? How can that BE? We've been doing that since jsap- 2005! This isn't new. Way to stay in touch.

Suehs spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said the commissioner was aware of employees' concerns but that their e-mails "helped us really understand the human toll."

"We know we have to reduce the backlog; we know we have to deliver services faster," Goodman said. "But we cannot continue to do this to our employees."

No lie. It took someone other than ALBERT HAWKINS to actually care- but you can't say that no one knew the toll. You all see the overtime numbers, so it's not like you didn't know the amt of overtime that was being worked in the field. How do you THINK someone is working 20-30 hours in overtime PER WEEK? I know people who work from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. (11.5 hours PER DAY) and then another 8-10 hours on Saturdays.

In his original message to employees, Suehs wrote that the agency is hiring 750 new workers by filling vacant positions, adding positions recently approved by state elected officials and hiring in advance of anticipated vacancies.

"Help is on the way, but you and I both know that it will take some time to get those new employees on board and trained," Suehs wrote in his Oct. 21 e-mail. "We're facing a crisis today, and I need your help. ... I welcome your ideas, and I need your suggestions."

Marni Chancellor of Athens replied to say she is averaging 85 hours a month of overtime and is "praying there is an end in sight."

In September, the state spent $2 million on overtime for eligibility workers, who earn an average salary of $30,321, according to Goodman. That month, eligibility staffers, including supervisors - who earn comp time, not paid overtime - put in an extra 227,000 hours, Goodman said.

Midland worker Kristin Davison told the commissioner that she spends several mornings a week crying on the way to work because she knows she won't see her 5-year-old until after the girl is in bed. Without full weekends off to eat dinner with family, do laundry and go to church, employees are "overworked, frazzled, tangled, frustrated, angry and guilt ridden."

This is what the public does not realize, and to some extent upper management. We don't work all these hours for the money...contrary to what those on the outside may think. We do it because we have an obligation not just to the agency, but to the clients we serve. The workers are in the middle of all this and have been the forgotten ones. Add to that when you are unable to take any decent time OFF- and it spirals. I just hope that the commissioner's email is not in vain, that the suggestions were asked for and still nothing gets done. Time will tell.

"Our clients are hurting because we cannot possibly handle the amount of work that is given to us daily," she wrote. Several employees in the Houston area told Suehs that they are not allowed to take any vacation this month or in December. Goodman said the agency is clarifying to Houston-area managers that there is no such ban.

Please, this isn't new either. Leave moratorium? We've had those much of the time. Not allowed more than 1-2 days off without "special permission"? Nothing new about that.

Goodman said the agency is considering changes, such as worker bonuses and temporarily hiring retired employees to help with the backlog. Also on the table, she said, is asking for a federal waiver that would allow workers to deny applications from families whose applications clearly show they don't qualify (now, employees have to schedule interviews for such families).

I have a newsflash for you- you can pay bonuses and hire back retirees all day long- but for longterm help- start training new workers the way us tenured were trained back in the "good old days"- 2 week trainings won't solve the problem. 3 week training won't solve the problem. You have to develop staff so that they know what they are doing and therefore STAY. All it seems is done now is new workers are just "thrown" out there, and they either stay and muddle through, or they quit from the sheer magnitude of what is expected of them. Ask any tenured worker if 2 weeks is enough, and see what they say.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of families are waiting for decisions on past-due applications. "It's just unacceptable to be so far behind," Zaffirini said.

Friday, October 16, 2009


It may have been dismissed, but it accomplished what it set out to do- shine a spotlight on what we, in the field, knew would eventually would become an issue.  Let's just hope that our new Commish and his staff don't take this out on the workers who are doing all they can.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Ok, here are more:
Editorial: Food Stamp Crisis  Dallas Morning News - ‎Oct 13, 2009‎
Food Stamp Asset Test not State Law  Austin American-Statesman
Two Senators to Monitor Food Stamp Problems  Austin American-Statesman - Corrie MacLaggan - ‎Oct 9, 2009‎
Feds Warn State:  Speed Up Food Stamp Process  Marshall News Messenger - ‎Sep 26, 2009‎
One thing I WILL say, is regions are going to 10 day Food Stamp training classes for new workers.  Now, while I understand the need to get workers in the field as soon as possible (because we need the help!), I also have been around long enough to know that 1 of 2 things will happen when you do not devote enough time up front into training staff adequately (and this isn't a slam on trainers either- they are just doing what they are told):
1- they will become overwhelmed very fast - this is a complex job, even though "the public" thinks all we do is whip out the proverbial state checkbook, and because of the overwhelming nature of the job- they will quit.
2- we will have inadequately trained workers (through no fault of their own, mind you) who stay, and do cases inaccurately (again, through no fault of their own) that will lead to higher QC errors- and add to the growing sanctions Texas is going to pay.
It's a no win situation.
Do this- take the time to train adequately correctly.  Us in the field would much rather do with the vacancies an extra couple of weeks or even an extra month if that means the new hires come into the field actually able to do the job.  New hires will now come into the field having been CRAMMED full of information, and the staff in the office are going to be too busy to adequately help them, which will lead to frustrations.  I know that while I know what I'm doing, I'm not so sure 2 weeks of training (with GWS training, mind you- along with policy)- would have been enough and I can see myself having given up years ago had I been thrown into this mess with that much under my belt.
Pay up front now, or pay later. 
Stop paying Deloitte all this money on TIERS- think of the number of workers you could hire and take the time to train with all that money instead going to Deloitte to continue with the mess that is TIERS.  You know, the more issues TIERS has, the more money Deloitte makes.  TIERS does not even correctly figure benefits right- even when income is entered correctly.  You have benefits being issued INCORRECTLY due to the SYSTEM.  SAVERR has it's issues, we all know this- but it at least knew how to project income!  Scrap these call centers- and do whatever you can to bring our tenured staff back.  All the vendor does is refer clients back to the local offices ANYWAY!  And we are PAYING them for this!    Part of our timeliness issue in TIERS comes from the vendor scheduling untimely.  WAKE UP!  Albert Hawkins left before he could be put out- and look at the fine mess he's left us in.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.


I haven't had much time to post- but HERE is one article...if you see anymore, post the link in comments.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Legislative Budget Board nixes more HHSC staff; Texas warned it could lose federal food stamp funds- from TSEU

Legislative Budget Board nixes more HHSC staff; Texas warned it could lose federal food stamp funds

. . . The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) has turned down an HHSC request for funds to hire about 650 new eligibility workers the same week HHSC was warned of a possible cutoff of federal funds due to case delays.

. . . In a letter last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Regional Administrator William Ludwig warned Texas officials that future funding for the food stamp program (SNAP) could be suspended if the state does not comply with federal timeliness standards (95%). Currently, nearly 40% of applications are missing the deadline. Federal funding is essential to the SNAP program. Last year, the feds provided more than $3 billion of food stamps to eligible Texans.

. . . The stern USDA warning comes the same week that the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) denied a request from HHSC’s commissioner to hire about 650 state eligibility workers to help address application backlogs and processing errors. An LBB staffer sent an e-mail reading, “This notice is to inform you that the (staffing request) is disapproved. We will continue to work with you to further understand the agency’s needs and to address them in a timely manner.”

. . . The LBB decision seemingly ignores the crisis in HHSC eligibility programs. SNAP participation is up nearly 11% in the last year and the state’s ability to process cases has continued to decline. A class action lawsuit has been brought against HHSC on behalf of clients whose benefits have been delayed. “We’re working as hard as we can work but the volume of staff doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of the clients walking in the door,” said Lynn Moore, TSEU member and Region 8 Program Manager.

. . . Given the crisis in services, the LBB's decision is dead wrong. We need those additional staff right now to handle the flood of new clients and long-delayed cases. The LBB needs to approve HHSC’s request for new staff immediately.

. . . The increased number of applicants is not the only reason for the delays. Ongoing problems with the TIERS program, which processes cases slower than SAVERR, drag down local offices. Also, the state has continued to dump resources into the failed privatization project. Over $100 million per year is being spent on the Maximus contract for “eligibility support services”. Maximus receives over 15% of all eligibility funds, but the private company only does approximately 5% of all eligibility work. With the money being given to Maximus, HHSC could hire 1200-1600 additional caseworkers.

The services crisis has a solution. The LBB and HHSC need to put every available resource into rebuilding a functional eligibility system:

Hire and train at least 1000 new eligibility staff

Cancel the contract with Maximus and use the money being spent on the failed privatization plan to hire an additional thousand state workers.

Delay any further TIERS rollout (no new cases, regions, or programs) until TIERS operates as efficiently as SAVERR

Call your state legislators in the House and Senate and ask them to tell the members of the Legislative Budget Board to approve HHSC’s request for 650 additional eligibility staff now. The over 38,000 SNAP applicants whose cases are currently overdue can’t afford for us to delay any longer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another article

Off the Kuff speaks to the Feds Article- go comment!!  Click HERE

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Feds: Texas must speed up food stamp processing

Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American-Statesman

Texas must process food stamp applications more quickly or risk losing federal funds, U.S. officials warned this week. This comes the same week as the state's Legislative Budget Board denied a request from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to hire about 650 state workers to help address application backlogs and processing errors.

"The current status of (food stamp) administration in Texas is unacceptable and actions must be taken immediately," says a letter to Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs from the U.S.
Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees the food stamp program.
The letter from William Ludwig, a food stamp regional administrator, says that the state is out of compliance with federal law. The federal government requires applications to be processed within 30 days, but the state is failing to process more than a third of applications by the deadline, according to state data. At the end of last month, 38,000 new applicants were waiting for approval even though the deadline had passed, state officials have said.

Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which is an advocate for low- and middle-income Texans, called the federal letter "a warning sterner than we've ever seen before."
The letter says that commission officials must produce a corrective action plan within 60 days, and commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said the agency will work swiftly to do so.
"We do know that Texans do need and deserve better service now," Goodman said. About 2.8 million Texans are in the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That's an increase of 11 percent compared with last year, and the economy-related surge comes as the agency is struggling with backlogs and errors. One in every six food stamp applications is incorrectly processed by state workers, according to state data. In some cases, that means eligible families are denied benefits.

"How disgusting that we find ourselves in this situation," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. "This pressure from the federal government should serve to motivate the state and the new commissioner to correct things."

Former Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins, who retired Aug. 31, told Gov. Rick Perry and the budget board in an Aug. 13 letter that hiring additional workers would reduce caseloads. That "would improve timeliness of case processing, and should improve quality and accuracy," Hawkins wrote. There are now about 7,700 enrollment workers and more than 300 vacancies, Goodman said.

Even if the requested workers were added and a similar number were hired in 2011, the state would have about 1,000 fewer enrollment workers than it did a decade ago, when caseloads were significantly lower, Hagert said.

Under a provision in the state budget, this week was the deadline for the budget board or the governor to answer Hawkins' request; if they had done nothing, the request would have been automatically approved.

In an e-mail Thursday, budget board senior analyst Melitta Berger wrote to commission officials: "This notice is to inform you that (the staffing request) is disapproved. We will continue to work with you to further understand the agency's needs and to address them in a timely manner."

The 10-member Legislative Budget Board is made up of the lieutenant governor, House speaker and members of the House and Senate.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said that the decision to deny the request was made by board staff members rather than elected officials and that Dewhurst's office is working with the commission on a plan for the food stamp enrollment system.

Parsons said that simply approving the new workers would not necessarily address the problems and that denying the request now will allow officials to come up with a plan.

Zaffirini, a budget board member, said she supports the commission's request for more staff and wishes that she had been able to weigh in on it.

Goodman called the e-mail "more of a clock-stopping move" than a denial. The request "could still be approved," Goodman said. "We're still working with (the budget board) and other leaders to make sure they have the information they need to fully analyze our request for more staff."

But Hagert called the e-mail "stunning" and said that not hiring now is unfair to families waiting for food stamps. "We have hundreds of thousands of Texans needing help affording food and caring for their families," said Hagert, a senior policy analyst at the center.

Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Perry, declined to say whether the governor thinks the staffing request should be approved.

"This is an important issue that still needs to be addressed, and we'll continue to work with the leadership and the (budget board) on this," Cesinger said.

Backlog, processing errors bedevil food stamp program

Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American-Statesman

Tens of thousands of Texas families are waiting as long as several months for food stamps as a surge in applications lands on an already strained system.

And when state workers do process the applications, they often do it wrong. One out of every six food stamp applications is incorrectly processed by state workers, according to state data. In some cases, that means eligible families are being denied benefits.

That error rate has skyrocketed since 2004, rising from 2.8 percent to 21.4 percent last year. For the first half of this year, the error rate fell to 17.4 percent.

This comes as Texas is struggling with a food stamp application backlog, failing to process more than a third of applications within the 30 days required by the federal government.

At the end of last month, 38,000 new applicants were still waiting for approval even though the federal deadline had passed, state officials said. Families sometimes wait three months for benefits, officials said.

It's also a problem for longtime recipients who must renew, such as Bexar County resident Mary Bidwell. After years of receiving food stamps, Bidwell was surprised when she didn't receive benefits in August, she said.

"It made me so mad, I couldn't go to sleep," said Bidwell, 67, a retiree who said she can't afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables without food stamps. "I thought, 'Well, hey, here comes the beans and tortillas again.' "

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said, "Right now, our focus is on reducing the backlog, but then we also know we have to tackle these error rate issues."

She attributed the errors to the lack of experienced staff - more than half of state enrollment workers, as of June, had less than two years' experience, compared with 8.4 percent in 2004 - and the pressure of an increased workload.

There are about 2.8 million Texans enrolled in the food stamps program, an increase of about 11 percent since last year. Benefits offices across Texas are struggling to answer and return calls about food stamps and other programs because of what Goodman said is "a combination of volume and really old phone lines."

The commission has asked Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislative Budget Board for permission to hire about 650 more workers.

"We've received their request, and our budget staff is analyzing it," said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger. Goodman said that to cut down on errors, the state tried giving workers more time to process cases, but that wasn't practical because of the backlog. To address the timeliness problem, she said, the agency is making changes such as assigning senior employees who normally review others' work to process emergency food stamp cases.

In July, the commission was sued in U.S. District Court over the timeliness issue by the Texas Legal Services Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

The timeliness problem started several years ago when the agency lost workers in advance of an outsourcing effort. Goodman said the problem was complicated by a surge of applications following Hurricane Ike last year and another surge this year as the economy soured.
"We've been hit by a number of various kinds of storms, some literal, some figurative," Goodman said. Some advocates for low-income Texans say the food stamp program - now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - is in a crisis that could have been avoided. Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities said the program is supposed to be readily available during an economic downturn. A family of four earning up to $2,915 a month might qualify for food stamps, Goodman said.

"The state has simply failed to administer it in a way that gets help to people who need it, and that was an entirely preventable situation," Hagert said.

She said the situation could have been avoided by keeping the agency adequately staffed. State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, said Perry and the budget board should immediately approve the request, and he suggested that the state extend the food stamp enrollment period from six months to a year, which would not require legislative approval.

That's one of several possibilities that the commission is discussing with federal officials, Goodman said. "As stewards of taxpayer dollars," Naishtat said, "we need to make sure we're not spending taxpayers' money on a system that either does not or cannot perform as it should."
The backlog is especially large in the Dallas and Houston areas, where less than half the applications were processed on time in August. The Austin area did better - 87.8 percent of applications were processed on time that month - but didn't meet the federal standard of 95 percent.

Bidwell, who said her benefits dropped from $111 a month to $0 in August, e-mailed everyone she could think of - from the office of the San Antonio mayor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees food stamps. One of her e-mails ended: "HELP!!!!!"

A few days later, she said, her benefits were reinstated. She said she's relieved but worried about others who depend on food stamps.

"Worst comes to worst, I could go eat at my daughter's. I don't want to, but I probably could," she said. "Probably a lot of people are in worse shape than I am."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Check this out....thoughts?
...The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), State of Texas, invites all interested and qualified Proposers to submit proposals to provide Software Development and Technical Support Services for the maintenance and ongoing support of the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) for S...

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Blog Search regarding Thomas Suehs HERE
News Search regarding Thomas Suehs HERE

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Gov. Perry Names Suehs Executive Commissioner of Health and Human Services

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry has named Thomas Suehs of Austin executive commissioner of Health and Human Services effective Sept. 1, 2009, for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2011.
The Health and Human Services Commission provides leadership and strategic direction to the health and human services system in Texas, and the executive commissioner oversees the operations of the five health and human services agencies, including more than 50,000 employees and combined annual budgets of $30 billion.
"Whether managing the monumental reorganization of Texas' health and human services system beginning in 2003, or helping to coordinate the sheltering of special needs evacuees from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, Texas has successfully taken on these enormous challenges thanks to the outstanding leadership of Albert Hawkins as commissioner of Health and Human Services, and I thank him for his years of service to the state," Gov. Perry said. "As we move forward, I am confident that Tom will continue the trend of outstanding health and human services vision and expertise, and I am proud to welcome him to his new role as commissioner."
Suehs has served as deputy executive commissioner for financial services at the Health and Human Services Commission since 2003. His responsibilities include providing administrative leadership, oversight and direction for the financial management of all five Health and Human Services agencies. He is past executive director of the Texas Health Care Association, past deputy commissioner of the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, past president of the American Society of State Health Care Executives, and former special advisor to the Texas Indigent Health Care Task Force. He is also a past member of the Texas Society of Association Executives and American College of Health Care Administrators. Suehs received a bachelor's degree from Texas State University and Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To feed hungry Texans-Houston Chronicle

When it comes to federal programs, food stamps come close to being a freebie. Simply by providing half the costs of administering eligibility requirements, Texas and other states guarantee their low-income folks — primarily children and the elderly — crucial access to basic nutrition.

What the federal government asks in return is that states process 95 percent of food-stamp applications within 30 days. After all, hunger cannot be put on hold while bureaucrats dither.

Texas, which has had difficulty meeting that requirement for years, is getting worse. With the recession prompting rising requests for food assistance, the Lone Star rate of noncompliance rose from 19.2 percent in January to 37.2 percent last month. That failure has prompted a federal class action lawsuit by two citizen advocacy groups to force the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to put the eligibility process on the mandated federal schedule.

In recent years the commission has pushed through ill-considered privatization schemes that resulted in increased delays to processing applications for the Children's Health Insurance Program and other state-supervised federal programs. It has failed to hire an adequate number of workers to handle the growing food-stamp applicant backlog, even though the Legislature approved funding for an additional 656 positions. An HHS spokeswoman said approval for the hires has not been cleared with state leaders.

Harris County is at the center of the crisis, with more than 364,000 residents receiving food
stamps. The average family gets $324 in monthly food assistance.

Houston state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat, says top Texas leaders have shown a callous disregard for the needs of poor constituents.

“When the people in charge don't like the government to provide services, whether it be health care or food, they just do a very poor job of providing the service,” says Coleman.

Texas must do better in processing food assistance to its neediest in a timely manner. It shouldn't take a federal judge to remind state officials of their responsibilities.

Watchdog: As Texas bureaucracy flounders over food stamp applications, a couple settles for potatoes

Watchdog: As Texas bureaucracy flounders over food stamp applications, a couple settles for potatoes


Unlike everybody else who contacts The Watchdog, Bob of Fort Worth doesn’t want my help. He only wants everyone to understand the horrible state of Texas’ food stamp program.

Bob, who doesn’t want his last name used because he is afraid of getting into a fight with the government, is 78 and lives with his wife on $500 a month from Social Security.

Two years ago, they qualified for food stamps. But the credits on his state-provided electronic debit card — worth about $200 a month — ran out in May.

So what does he do?

"Potatoes are like a dollar for 5 pounds," he said. "So we eat a lot of potatoes. If they’ve got a sale on something — for instance, if regular lettuce is a dollar and a half a head, and they have a sale for 75 cents, we’ll make salads out of lettuce. We find the bargains on something and we’ll eat that this week."

Since May, Bob has been trying to get ahold of someone at the state Health and Human Services office on East Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth to help him re-qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a requirement to make sure recipients still need it.

"We sent all our papers, and we kept calling, and they kept putting us off. You couldn’t get anybody down there. Nobody answers the telephone. They had about a dozen people working down there helping people, checking and rechecking them.

"And a woman says, 'Well, we’re planning on getting a new system so it will be about a week.’ And then you don’t get anything. Then finally, a week or so later, they got a recording on their phone. I guess everybody was not getting anything. The recording said, 'If you’re really needing help, if you’re really out of food, call 211 and they’ll get you some food.’ "

The Texas 211 help-line folks told him that he could go to a food bank, but Bob, a military veteran, doesn’t want to do that: "I have to be careful what I eat. I had colon cancer and diabetes. I’m a mess."

Nobody knows how many Bobs there are in Texas. State officials say they believe that one-third of all food stamp applications processed in July were past the 30-day limit allowed by federal law.

That’s 45,000 families like Bob’s that waited more than a month for help, for a phone call back, for a letter, anything. Bob’s wait is three months. How many more are out there waiting?
A spokeswoman for state health services, Stephanie Goodman, says the state doesn’t really know.

The computer system used to process food stamp applications is so outdated that they aren’t counted until they are actually entered into the system.

(Stephanie, really? "so outdated"? More spin from Austin to build TIERS up? Can you imagine if the Dallas area was IN TIERS? Can you? Because even YOU can't deny that a worker can work FAR MORE CASES in SAVERR, in a day, than in TIERS. And, we have no idea? What, the supervisors in Region 3 don't have to submit a lead time report? They have "no idea" how many apps there were waiting to be seen? Surely you jest.)

Applications "sitting on someone’s desk that we have not gotten to" are uncounted, she says.
For sure, there are tens of thousands more.

The problem is so bad that two groups filed a federal lawsuit in Austin last week demanding that the state comply with the 30-daylimit.

The lawsuit is designed to force the state to create a quick plan, says Randall Chapman, executive director of Texas Legal Services Center, which co-filed the suit on behalf of two Irving residents tired of waiting.

"Believe it or not, the two people named in that lawsuit were approved in less than 24 hours," Chapman said. "It was just magic. Their approval letters were hand-delivered to their homes."
Chapman offered his organization’s help to Bob. Goodman, the state official, would have checked into Bob’s case, too, had I asked her. Bob could have been fast-tracked and had food stamps hand-delivered to his door, too. But he told me not to do that. He was adamant.

Chapman said: "Some elderly people feel intimidated, or they don’t want their neighbors knowing they need help. That’s a real shame."

The state is trying to come up with solutions, shortcuts, hiring proposals, abbreviated training procedures, anything to get food to Texans. Next month, the state will begin hiring 656 workers to process applications.

For now, however, the bureaucrats simply cannot get it done.

"We’re processing more cases than ever," Goodman said. "We’ve got more people on the rolls. We’re just not simply keeping up with the increase in demand.  . . . Our staff has been working weekends and long hours, but it’s still not enough. We’re not keeping up."

In Tarrant County, 150,000 people now receive food stamps, compared with 130,000 last year. There would be more if the system worked properly.

As a test, I called the phone number of the East Lancaster Avenue office where Bob keeps striking out. When you push zero for operator, you get this message: "Hi, you’ve reached the general delivery mailbox for the East Lancaster office. However, this mailbox is not set up to have return calls. Please do not leave a message. Press zero for operator so your call will be reverted to our operator. Have a nice day."

I hit zero, and got the same message again. Did it again and again and again.

Meanwhile, Texans are eating potatoes and lettuce and waiting for phone calls and letters that never seem to come.

Getting help

For food stamp problems, call the ombudsman’s office at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission at 877-787-8999.


Here's my only issue with all of this (aside from the comments that people leave on these types of articles- see the link if you want to read them) is that Region 3 (Metroplex) and Region 6 (Houston area) have had issues with timeliness forEVER. It took a LAWSUIT for anyone to take notice? This is NOTHING NEW. It's a SHAME is what it is.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

More from the Texas Bloggers

Off the Kuff has an article HERE which references OLDER articles- in other words, this lawsuit and the issues surrounding timeliness has been a LONG TIME COMING.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

All about the lawsuit

Many articles- some the same (AP)- I know that I was emailed the one I posted yesterday- and have just now had a chance to sift through the "news" to see what else is out there:

Hard To Believe, But Texas Is Fouling Up The Process Of Distributing Food-Stamp Relief

Texas Health and Human Services Commission Sued for Failure to Meet Federal Food Stamp Timeliness Guidelines

Lawsuit alleges Texas broke food-stamp processing laws

Google Search (just click this sentence) for the Lawsuit news

And here begins the beating down of the local office worker, I'm afraid.  You know, we - meaning us in the local offices- we, who used to do a FANTASTIC job in that we allowed for the State of Texas to receive enhanced funding several years in a row- money which, btw, went straight into the general fund, we knew that attempting to "outsource" and do "call centers" and take away the relationships that offices had with their clients- we KNEW this would lead up to THIS.  A lawsuit on timeliness. 

I guess it boils down to what I've been saying on this blog from day one- the workers in the field, the clerks, the local office supervisors- are doing ALL THEY CAN.  Are there cracks?  Of course!  But if you have more clients/applications coming in than you have workers with the abilities to see many in a day, and do them CORRECTLY- then it snowballs.  Into THIS- a lawsuit.  I'm torn about how "I" personally feel about the lawsuit, given that I think it's time that Perry and Co. are going to have to be accountable to some extent- and for the USDA to see what's going on (although they know).....but at the same time, I know that whatever this lawsuit brings- will hurt the local office.   

I know that "Joe Blow" doesn't care what we do- as I've said before.  But Joe Blow also doesn't realize that we, as employees, have families and lives too.  Most of us (MOST) care about what we do, and will work late, work weekends, etc- at the EXPENSE of OUR families- so that other families can eat.  And have Medical care for their children.  There's just so much one person can do.  After the "fake layoffs" and after the offices sunk- THEN and only THEN did the state realize they had to hire more people- by then, the damage was done.  You bring in new people and throw them to the wolves, so to speak, and they figure this was too much and they leave, and the process starts all over again.

Tenured staff that didn't "Jump Ship" (as it were) were depended on to do the jobs of 2 or 3.  Yes, staff were paid overtime (I mean, think about it- if you are working 10-11 hours per day, and on weekends- without PAY, you aren't so apt to work those crazy hours- and furthermore-earning the overtime as leave is a joke when you can never take it off to regroup) and that made it easier to bear- but it just gets to be too much. 

I forsee staff now (due to the lawsuit) having to work mandatory overtime and have to work cases for those areas that are so behind (Irving, for example, as these are where the clients are from from whom the lawsuit originated)...which will put those offices that are BARELY making it behind themselves....then the snowball starts back down the hill.

We had a system in place that worked.  BEFORE tiers.  BEFORE Accenture/Maximus.  It WORKED.  We proved it worked.  And now?  I just don't know how you fix something like this.


This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Monday, August 03, 2009

I'm shocked this hasn't happened before now.

Texas Health and Human Services sued over food-stamp response times

Two advocacy groups are suing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, accusing the agency of not processing food stamp applications within the time required by law.
The Texas Legal Services Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice filed the class action lawsuit Friday in federal court in Austin.
Federal law requires the state to decide on food stamp applications within 30 days, seven days for emergency food stamp applications for families without money for food or rent.
The lawsuit alleges Texas has failed to meet the time constraints for more than three years. It says that last month, Texas processed more than a third of all food-stamp applications late.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission hasn't commented on the lawsuit and its allegations.

I'm just shocked it took this long.

This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Article- HHSC in Daily Kos!

Texas #HHSFails!

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is a disaster. They fail to the needs of the people they are to serve, and indeed increase the pain and difficulty those people are having.  There are so many problems with this agency that it is difficult to know where to start. But I'll start with my knowledge of problems in the administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
For the uninitiated, this is the program colloquially known as Food Stamps. They fail to process applications or renewals in accordance to laws and are having the people wait months for an interview. The agency is strikingly unresponsive. Now in July, they are making appointments to interview people in September that applied or should have been renewed and the Food Stamps delivered in June.
I agree that this is a travesty, but if there aren't enough workers, then what should the state do?  Interview 24/7?  I think they are doing what they can with what they have been given.
This is not what was intended when the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 authorized USDA to award $5 million in grants for state and local government and private non-profit organization projects aimed at simplifying the SNAP application and eligibility systems or improving access to SNAP benefits by eligible households.
            You may ask how am I qualified to berate the Health and Human Services Commission in the Great State of Texas. I have had to become familiar with Texas HHS and the nightmare that agency is. If you take a little bank fraud, employment outsourced to other countries, some health problems w/no insurance and reach the age where nobody wants to hire you, all you have to do is stir.  You have the perfect recipe for personal financial disaster.
          I moved to Houston because I had family here. Shortly after I moved here, my sister's husband was transferred, and now I'm the only one who can care for my 89-year-old mom.
          This is my first diary, and I'm coming out of the Food-Stamp-Closet with this story in hopes that I can bring awareness to the problems faced by so many here. I petition anyone reading this to join me in bringing attention to the problems in that agency and to work towards making things better for the many who have no voice.
          By my experience, I can tell you:
          The public web site doesn't work- I called Information, 211, and they steered me to the Internet to apply for benefits.  I did so, and two months later I spent days and dealt with people all over the state, looking for the status of my application.  The application showed on the web as having been submitted, but no one could tell me the status.  I spoke to people in Midland, several in Austin, and several in Houston. The final verdict was that my app must have gone into a black hole in their system, as the system didn't handle applications from Harris County, yet.  Then why was I sent to this system? And why did this system accept my application when one of the first questions I answered was "County"? What kind system is built so that "records in" aren't tracked and accounted for? And if there is an error that the system is unable to process, why was three no error message and the requestor not notified?
          If it helps, workers across the state knew back when our Commissioner and Governor wanted to "privatize" our work and have call centers- that this would be the outcome.  They wouldn't listen to us.
          They cannot process mail- An example of how poorly they handle any mail is a notice I have before me right now, (because I needed to reference it), And the envelope it came in. The notice was dated June 30th and it came in an envelope postmarked July 8th. Personally, I believe the postmark.  I've learned to save the envelopes because I suspect this particular problem is a deliberate attempt to make applicants fail their response times. Clients have time limits to respond, and if it takes eight days for a notice to get from someone's out-box to the Post Office, the client can miss their deadlines and loose their benefits. I've also taken to sending mail Certified (this is a hefty cost to someone on food stamps).  While they can't deny getting the mail when you have a receipt, I have found that it failed to speed delivery to the recipient (i.e., Post Office" signed for date" does not mean that the recipient got it (or the worker fibbed to me about when it got to their desk)), nor does sending it Certified have any time impact on having the contents processed.
          Their phone system is a dreadful- Do you like to wade through a phone tree and wait for a long time listening to messages repeated, to be disconnected and have to start all over? How about when you finally get a person and explain your problem they transfer you to a line that asks for your FAX number to continue? (This was a new on for me.  I've had a phone tree problem on other phone systems, but HHS's has been the only phone system I've encountered to throw me out because I didn't have a FAX number.) If you're wondering why phones are important, consider that Houston is a big place. I live in the North West area but I'm assigned to an office in the South East. This is equivalent to having someone in the Bronx go to Brooklyn or someone in Queens sent to Staten Island, except that New Yorkers have a Public Transportation system that Houstonians don't.
          They do not send notices to claimants even when benefits are ending-. They don't follow normal business etiquette and provide information to clients by mail or phone when there is a major change and frequently don't reply to the clients at all.  I sent one Certified Letter that never been replied to, at all. No letter. No call. Nada. I appealed a decision and got the same treatment: Nothing.  I ask, " Is this any way to run a railroad?"
          All certification letters for Food Stamps show the length of the certification (i.e. 7/1/09-12/31/09)
          From the start, the experience is humiliating. If you can manage to get your application processed, you are fingerprinted and they share your personal data with law enforcement agencies.
          This is a myth and is NOT TRUE.  We have never EVER shared finger images with law enforcement as a practice.  Never.  The ONLY reason finger imaging is done is to prevent one person from having 15 identities and having 15 different cases.  No one has 15 different finger prints, so we finger image.  Hence, one case for each person.  Law enforcement has to go through OUR Office of Inspector General (OIG) for information.  We do not cross match with PD.
          Barbara Ehrinreich from her Op-Ed A Homespun Safety Netpublished in the NYT, July 12, says this is making it hazardous for anyone who might have an outstanding warrant — for failing to show up for a court hearing on an unpaid debt, for example — to apply.
          Not true.
          Then they check and check and check.  Everything you tell them they check.  How many times do you have to submit your social security benefits statement and your apartment lease? The answer is: every time they as for it. The redundant paper is incredible.
          It is.  Unfortunately, the honest pay for the dishonest.   We don't make the Food Stamp rules, the Feds do that (USDA).  If the Feds mandate we verify your address each time you apply, then we do.  It's our job to do so.
          Right now, I'm trying to fix their failure to renew my case in June and this is a rerun of what happened last year. In December 2008, I mailed my renewal info, as requested, but my case was not processed. In January I started pleading for help, as my account was not credited. No notice. Nothing. Just no credit to the account, the same as this time.  It took a while before I could get any action, and when I did, they cut my benefits greatly. I had just spent $11.31 in postage to send all the paper they demanded!
          I appealed the reduction in benefits. And I suppose I lost. I said suppose, because after the insane "Hearing" by phone, which is a horrendous story by itself, I never received the result, which should have been sent by mail.  I was told in a month or so. (I could go further into the appeal, but I'll limit my discussion here).
          I'm fortunate in that I can tell the story and point the finger, because most of those in need cannot. Many of the people here have nowhere else to go except to the Texas HHS and have no voice at all. It's not like you can take your neediness to another agency. Poverty itself can deplete and strain entire social networks, leaving no one to turn to. When the poor get no help, they are forced in a further downward spiral, often falling for the rip-offs of 'payroll and quick auto loans' that they can never get paid off. They are the most vulnerable and the sufferer most from many scams.  If they can't pay their credit card, the Banks slam them and their car insurance goes up. If they don't get their food stamps they may not have the cash for a haircut to go on the job interview they worked hard to get.
          As the national recession persists and our National Government is striving to help people caught in it, Governor Perry and most of Texas' Republican lawmakers work overtime to set up barriers to any help that's made available. Texas Senator John Cornyn voted against the SCHIP program (health insurance for low-income children. I can never understand how the Republicans, who care so much for the unborn, have no heart when it comes to children who are here. Governor Rick Perry refused the federal assistance to the unemployed. He should be ashamed of his record and the punitive bureaucracy he is in charge of, but he's not.
          It's true, Texans likes to brag. But for those who can face the truth, the quixotic becomes brutal. Eliot Shapleigh, a State Senator from El Paso, compiles a report each legislative session called
          Texas on the Brink. Shapleigh's little book of horrors comes fully footnoted to avoid being attacked by partisans. His staff gathers data from the Census Bureau and Texas government agencies.  Skimming it will provide more than enough data to show where the Republican leadership, which so proudly brags about its governance, has brought the state.
          Here are a few of Shapleigh's tidbits about Texas that Rick Perry doesn't want the rest of the nation to know:
          1. 49th in teacher pay
          1. 1st in the percentage of people over 25 without a high school diploma
          1. 41st in high school graduation rate
          1. 46th in SAT scores
          1. 1st in percentage of uninsured children
          1. 1st in percentage of population uninsured
          1. 1st in percentage of non-elderly uninsured
          1. 3rd in percentage of people living below the poverty level
          1. 49th in average Women Infant and Children benefit payments
          1. 1st in teenage birth rate
          1. 50th in average credit scores for loan applicants
          1. 1st in air pollution emissions
          1. 1st in volume of volatile organic compounds released into the air
          1. 1st in amount of toxic chemicals released into water
          1. 1st in amount of recognized cancer-causing carcinogens released into air
          1. 1st in amount of carbon dioxide emissions
          1. 50th in homeowners' insurance affordability
          1. 50th in percentage of voting age population that votes
          1. 1st in annual number of executions
          Given these numbers, need I explain?
          There are a lot of Texans that need help.
          If you qualify for food stamps you should be able to get them.
          The State Government should be held accountable.
          The Houston Chronicle reported that our lawmakers cleaned out the public schools' piggy bank so it could replace it with federal stimulus money in Stimulus, or better yet, status quo.  
          Note that Texas is last in voter participation of all the states. Now, try to square this with the fact that the Republicans spent much of their effort during the last State legislative session working on a bill to make voting more difficult, (to require Voter-Ids).  Should they really work so hard to defend their position of dead last?  
          Sometimes you need a laugh.
          Nick Anderson, editorial cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle, did one of his toons about it:  He has a crossing guard stopping Traffic so that a Mother Duck and her little duckies can cross the road.  While allowing a string of ducks to cross the road is normally a kind, humanitarian act to be admired, Nick's crossing guard is a big elephant, holding his hand up to stop Emergency Trucks "Children's Health Insurance", "Windstorm Insurance Reform" and "Unemployment Benefits", so that V (mamma duck) could lead the little ducklings o,t,e,r—I,d   across the street.
          In the same Off the Wall vein he did one of an angry looking Nancy Pelosi sitting behind a desk piled high with stacks of Budget, Health Care, Economy, etc. papers, saying," Beat it!", with Representative Sheila Jackson Lee in the background grandstanding a 'Congressional Resolution Honoring Michael Jackson', with her own portable spotlights.
          In yet another, he has Perry slurping Stimulus Funds out of a straw while pushing an unemployed back with, "STOP, It's Tainted".
          To quote Barbara Ehrinreich from the article cited above,  "So far, despite some temporary expansions of food stamps and unemployment benefits by the Obama administration, the recession has done for the government safety net pretty much what Hurricane Katrina did for the Federal Emergency Management Agency: it's demonstrated that you can be clinging to your roof with the water rising, and no one may come to helicopter you out". Even the help that has been sent doesn't make it to the citizens of Texas.  That's due to the State Government that undermines it and sets up roadblocks to its use. And if Texas doesn't address its Health and Human Services problems fast, things are going to get a lot worse.

          This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

          Wednesday, June 10, 2009


          Anyone in Region 7 want to give some insight regarding "rollout" aka "expansion"- how's that going? 
          You can email- you will be anonymous.

          This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

          Saturday, May 16, 2009

          State of Neglect: Outsourcing enriches contractors, ex-legislators

          This isn't a new article, but a good one nonetheless:
          By GREGG JONES / The Dallas Morning News
          For the weak and the vulnerable, Texas has long been an especially hard place. Year after year, national surveys place the state at or near the bottom in such categories as assistance to poor children and the malnourished, treatment of the mentally ill and care of the disabled. This story is part of The Dallas Morning News' 'State of Neglect' series examining how the state determines whom it protects and whom it excludes – and how special interests and their lobbyists strongly influence the writing of laws and the workings of state government.
          Texas will pay private companies billions of dollars this year to provide health and human services to its neediest residents. Contractors will coordinate care and process benefits, operate call centers for welfare applicants and cut checks for state health workers.
          The national economy may be collapsing, but it's another boom year in the state's effort to outsource functions it once performed.
          Government outsourcing in Texas expanded dramatically with 2003 legislation that crunched 12 health and human services agencies into five, negotiated lower prices with drug companies and replaced state workers with private contractors to screen and administer welfare benefits. It has since grown to include such functions as data management across state agencies and payroll processing for state employees.
          "Anytime state government can provide the same or better services more efficiently and cost-effectively, the citizens benefit," said Allison Castle, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry.
          Some have benefited more than others: Former Perry aides, state agency staff and legislators have gone to work for private companies that have profited from the outsourcing.
          The architect of the landmark legislation, for example, has earned between $1 million and $2 million as a lobbyist specializing in health care over the past four years.
          Former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth said the result of her legislation, known as House Bill 2292, has been smaller government that still served the needs of vulnerable Texans.
          "By reducing administrative costs, more money was available for social services programs, the benefits of the poor were protected and funding for foster-care programs actually increased," Wohlgemuth said.
          The revolving door from public to private sector does more than enrich former public officials, critics contend.
          "It undermines public faith in government when they see that kind of thing happening," said Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group that tracks lobbying and campaign contributions. "It reconfirms the sense that these people are operating on the take and not in the public's best interest."
          Policies and profits
          The state Health and Human Services Commission reported more than $15.5 billion in contracts in fiscal year 2007, according to the most recent figures available from the Legislative Budget Board, the Legislature's fiscal and budgetary office. That was 58 percent of overall state spending on health and human services and an 11 percentage-
          point increase over fiscal year 2003 contracting.
          This year's health and human services budget is $29.3 billion. Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said nearly $25 billion was for contracts, including payments to doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and private companies.
          The belief that outsourcing promotes efficiency and cost savings is one that conservative activists and corporate interests have promoted in Austin over the last decade. It shaped HB 2292.
          Gregg Phillips had a foot in both the corporate and political worlds that produced the legislation. He was hired as a senior official at the Health and Human Services Commission just as Wohlgemuth was introducing the first draft of HB 2292.
          As a deputy executive commissioner at Health and Human Services, Phillips played a leading role in shaping the legislation and promoting some of its more controversial elements. When state Rep. Brian McCall, a Plano Republican, expressed concerns about the plan to replace state welfare administrators with privately run call centers, Wohlgemuth arranged for him to tour an Austin call center that was handling applications for another state program. Phillips was his guide, McCall said.
          Later, Phillips directed the agency's business case analysis, which predicted that the call centers would be cost-effective. (The call center program has cost taxpayers more than $250 million and is still not fully functional three years after its launch.)
          Phillips was a former Republican Party fundraiser who presided over privatization initiatives as Mississippi's human services chief in the 1990s. A Mississippi legislative committee concluded in 1995 that Phillips had created "an appearance of impropriety" by going to work for a company after awarding it a $557,000 contract while in his state job.
          From 1997 until August 2002, Phillips worked on health-care contracts for Deloitte Consulting LLP, a major government outsourcing firm, according to his state personnel file.
          Chris Britton, a former Republican legislative aide who had worked for Wohlgemuth and had advised Perry on health and human service issues when he was lieutenant governor and governor, was also heavily involved in the legislation.
          Just weeks after leaving the governor's staff in late 2002, Britton was hired by Wohlgemuth to perform budget and legislative policy analysis, Britton said in an e-mail response. State campaign finance records show Wohlgemuth paid him $10,000 from campaign funds in 2003. Britton now works for Accenture LLP, another big outsourcing firm that along with Deloitte won contracts with the state after the passage of HB 2292.
          Deloitte and Accenture also may have been involved in discussions about the outsourcing legislation. Phillips' office calendar shows that he met repeatedly with representatives of the two companies during the time he was working on the legislation. The Houston Chronicle first reported those meetings in 2005.
          In a recent telephone interview, Phillips told The Dallas Morning News that he had "a lot of interaction with a lot of folks" but could not remember whether he met with Deloitte and Accenture while working on the bill.
          Deloitte spokeswoman Melissa Norcross Wolf said the company "had no involvement in the drafting of HB 2292."
          Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins said Accenture and Deloitte were among many parties interested in HB 2292. He defended the involvement of private contractors in discussions regarding the legislation.
          "There's all kind of input that is provided into the legislative process from people who have expertise or those that might be interested in some business opportunity down the road," he said.
          Hawkins said he was confident that Deloitte and Accenture did not improperly influence the legislation.
          "The drafting process is under the control of the Legislature," Hawkins said. "While we share information about it, it's up to the author and the legislative committees as to what to include in their bills."
          In this case, Wohlgemuth and her colleagues included the prevailing orthodoxy on outsourcing state health services, including the use of call centers to process applications for Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance.
          Supporters said that would save time and millions of dollars by eliminating the jobs of thousands of state workers who accepted benefit applications in offices around Texas.
          From March 11, 2003, when Wohlgemuth filed HB 2292 in the Texas House, until it was signed three months later, the bill grew from 20 pages to 300 pages, including more than 150 amendments.
          Wohlgemuth told colleagues the bill would "cut out inefficient bureaucracy, streamline programs that belong together, delete the duplication of services provided by the state and make government more user-friendly to the citizens of Texas." It would also save the state $1.1 billion, she said.
          That was an irresistible pitch for lawmakers facing a $10 billion budget shortfall.
          Landing contracts
          Once signed, the law set in motion another high-stakes competition as companies vied for contracts, drawing on well-established ties to key lawmakers.
          Texas law bans contributions to lawmakers while the Legislature is in session and generally prohibits corporations and labor unions from directly contributing to politicians. But they are allowed to give money through political action committees, or PACs, registered groups set up by corporations, labor unions, professionals and others to accept and make campaign contributions.
          The money given to officeholders by the Deloitte & Touche Texas Political Action
          Committee typifies the sort of targeted contributions made to advance a corporation's interests in Austin.
          Since 2002, the Deloitte PAC has contributed more than $270,000 to political candidates and causes in Texas, according to state records. The largest contributions typically go to top officeholders – it has contributed more than $30,000 to Perry since 2004 and $17,500 to House Speaker Tom Craddick, who wields vast influence over legislation. Dozens of other contributions have gone to lawmakers on committees that deal with issues and legislation of interest to Deloitte.
          In July 2003, the first month that Deloitte could resume contributions to lawmakers following the end of the legislative session, the Deloitte PAC made only one donation: $1,000 to Wohlgemuth, at the time a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and chairwoman of its subcommittee on health and human services.
          In September 2003, the Deloitte PAC contributed $1,000 to Rep. Dianne Delisi, then chairwoman of the State Health Care Expenditures Select Committee. She is also the mother-in-law of Deirdre Delisi, the governor's then-deputy chief of staff.
          The next month, Deloitte Consulting won the first contract resulting from Wohlgemuth's legislation. The Health and Human Services Commission chose Deloitte as the lead consultant in the consolidation of agencies, a contract worth more than $1.8 million. A $1.2 million consulting contract went to Accenture. And Virginia-based Maximus Inc., another outsourcing firm that has since become a major player in Austin, won a $712,000 contract.
          HB 2292's grand prize, however, was a contract to outsource the screening process for welfare benefits and to create call centers for accepting applications. The competition pitted outsourcing rivals Accenture and IBM, both of which hired a well-connected cast of lobbyists that included former legislators or executive branch staff.
          In 2005, Health and Human Services awarded the $899 million call center contract to Accenture. IBM formally protested and later sued the state, alleging contract irregularities.
          IBM later withdrew the lawsuit. It declined to discuss its decision with The News, and Hawkins said IBM's complaints "were unfounded."
          About 16 months later, IBM won an $863 million contract to manage state data for Texas. Supporters said the contract would save the state $159 million over seven years. (In October, after the state had already fined IBM $900,000 for failing to complete timely backups, Perry suspended further data transfers to IBM.)
          Delayed care
          When Accenture's four call centers began taking social services applications in January 2006, delays immediately plagued the system. Thousands of applications piled up, and by May the state halted further rollout of the call centers.
          In 2007, the state canceled the contract at Accenture's request. A report by the Health and Human Services inspector general later criticized the agency for a flawed bid evaluation and inadequate contract oversight. It also found the Deloitte-designed software was significantly slower than the old state-run system.
          Hawkins had supported the call centers as a way to save $600 million over five years. But problems have indefinitely delayed the system's statewide rollout, and so "we didn't achieve the savings," agency spokeswoman Goodman said.
          Instead, Texas spent $30 million dealing with various problems with the Accenture contract and another $10 million on retention bonuses to keep experienced staff from leaving. For less than two years of work on the project, Accenture and its subcontractors were paid about $210 million.
          The state paid Deloitte $116.6 million before the company turned the new computer system over to Accenture in 2005, even though there were still more than 500 defects, the inspector general's office later noted. After Accenture gave up the call centers contract, the state hired Deloitte back and is paying the company $115.6 million to help maintain the system through 2010.
          Texas hired Maximus to take over operation of the four call centers and to perform other health and human services work. It has paid Maximus $141..2 million over the last two years.
          Those who rely on health and human services programs, and their advocates, say the state has saved money through outsourcing but in a way that is seldom discussed: by delaying or denying care to people in need, inadvertently or by design.
          Roxanne Anderson, 39, a part-time library aide for the city of Grand Prairie, said she couldn't afford to take her three children – ages 7, 9 and 11 – to the doctor if they weren't covered through the subsidized Children's Health Insurance Program for working-poor families. Anderson said she liked the convenience of a call center in applying for benefits, but lost paperwork at one of the centers resulted in her children losing their coverage for a month in early 2008. Front-line staff at the call centers also don't know much about the program, she said.
          "It takes them a long time to find out answers to questions, and quite often I have to get transferred to a second layer," Anderson said.
          Celia Hagert, an expert on state social programs at the nonpartisan Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said these are common complaints since the state began outsourcing applicant screening.
          Outsourcing this work raises a potential conflict between a private company's need to maximize profits and the state's emphasis on providing benefits to qualified applicants, regardless of the time or effort required, she said.
          Whether that conflict has cost Texas taxpayers is not fully known. Government oversight agencies – particularly the state comptroller and auditor – have analyzed only a few troubled contracts to determine what, if anything, was saved by shifting government functions to private contractors.
          A 2006 federal review found that Accenture's call center workers performed so badly that a "high percentage of cases" had to be returned because of missing information and other errors.
          A Texas comptroller's office review that same year said the call center project was a case study in poorly executed outsourcing.
          "Successful outsourcing relies on two things: well-written contracts that base payment on the contractor's good performance, and strong contract management practices to oversee the contractor's work," the review concluded. "The Accenture arrangement has neither of these. HHSC's lack of proper contracting practices has led directly to project delays, cost overruns and failed service to Texans."
          Last month, after 20 months of negotiations, the Health and Human Services Commission announced that the Accenture team had agreed to forgo $70.9 million in payments it was seeking from the state. The team also agreed to repay $20 million and provide a $10 million credit against future work performed by Maximus.
          Winners and losers
          Health and human services officials said taxpayers have profited from HB 2292, specifically $962 million in savings from the consolidation of state agencies and workforce reductions, as well as the introduction of a preferred drug list for Medicaid patients.
          "More importantly, I think, for the long run, we have put in place a more rational structure and way of providing those services that will be cost-effective over years to come," Hawkins said.
          Lawmakers, lobbyists, former health and human services staff and former Perry aides have profited in various ways, as well.
          Craddick, who became House speaker after the 2003 Republican takeover of the Legislature, secured a call center and a document processing center for the entire system for his hometown, Midland.
          Britton, the former Perry aide who now works for Accenture, got part of a state contract awarded to a company founded by Phillips, the former Health and Human Services official.
          Britton's wife, Tiffiny, a former Texas House and Senate staffer, works for Wohlgemuth's Austin lobbying and consulting firm, Three Point Strategies, according to the firm's Web site. Like Wolhgemuth, her clients are mainly in the health-care sector, Texas Ethics
          Commission records show.
          Since leaving his Health and Human Services Commission position in 2004, Phillips has won government outsourcing contracts from Texas and other states. In 2007, he hired Wohlgemuth for up to $25,000 to lobby for one of his firms, GHT Development Corp.
          Wohlgemuth, in turn, persuaded a former House colleague to insert an amendment in a bill that would have steered a state contract to GHT Development. That former colleague was Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, who 18 months earlier had received a $9,000 contribution from a Wohlgemuth campaign fund, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.
          After questions were raised by lawmakers, the amendment was stripped from the final budget legislation.
          Phillips denied any attempt to steer a contract to his firm.
          "I guess I don't understand what's inappropriate about a private business person hiring someone who's able to help them in the Legislature," he said. "Neither we nor she have violated any rules, laws or anything else."
          Wohlgemuth didn't respond when asked about the amendment recently, but in 2007 she told The News: "I was trying to advantage my client."
          GHT Development won a $275,000 no-bid contract in 2007 to supply the Texas Youth Commission with an automated placement system for juvenile inmates, state records show. Wohlgemuth had recommended Phillips, according to Jay Kimbrough, who was brought in to reform TYC and now serves as Perry's chief of staff.
          A staff report in November by the Legislature's Sunset Advisory Commission found that Phillips' system had experienced such "significant problems" that TYC was still operating its old system.
          Wohlgemuth ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2004 and resurfaced two months later as a lobbyist. One of her first clients was the Texas Optometric Association. Two years earlier, while still a legislator, Wohlgemuth had voted to cut optometry benefits for the children of working poor. The 2005 Legislature restored them.
          Wohlgemuth's daughter, Cristen, a former lobbyist, served on the governor's staff from January 2007 until June 2008 when, the governor's office said, she went to work for Chisum.
          "Former legislators who lobby do not violate either the spirit or the letter of Texas ethics laws," Arlene Wohlgemuth told The News in an e-mail. "People ... know that when I talk with them on behalf of a client they can rely on two things: first that what I tell them is absolutely truthful, and second that I bring to them only those ideas I believe are in the best interests of the State and her citizens."
          Texans for Public Justice, which is critical of lobbyists and the influence of corporate money in state politics, said former lawmakers who use their legislative contacts and expertise for later profit erode confidence.
          "Not many of these lawmakers remain there for life, and a shocking number of them wind up in the lobby," Wheat said. "If you have that in the back of your mind, you don't want to offend the biggest lobby interests in the state."
          Staff writer Ryan McNeill contributed to this report.
          The link to the article can be found HERE

          This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.

          Friday, May 15, 2009

          Texas health and human services chief to retire this year- American Statesman Staff

          Texas health and human services chief to retire this year

          Hawkins called 'budget whiz' but couldn't solve all problems.

          Friday, May 15, 2009
          The Texas official in charge of everything from food stamps to the troubled institutions for people with disabilities announced Thursday that he will retire this year.
          Albert Hawkins, 56, health and human services executive commissioner since 2003, did not say exactly when he'll step down.
          "We're all part of something bigger than each of us, something that provides value beyond our measure to millions of Texans," Hawkins told employees in an e-mail Thursday. "I'm proud to have been a part of an organization with such a noble mission."
          Hawkins oversees five agencies, 50,000 employees and a $25 billion total annual budget, including state and federal money.
          He "has the toughest job in state government," said Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans. "He was honest and delivered about as much as this underfunded, overwhelmed state system could deliver."
          A former budget director for then-Gov. George W. Bush who also worked for Bush in the White House, Hawkins is known as a budget whiz.
          He "has been a quiet but powerful force in state government for decades," Gov. Rick Perry said. "His budget expertise is renowned, and he has brought compassion and a commitment to quality to every job he's had."
          State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, who is on the House budget-writing team, called Hawkins "a walking, talking Wikipedia" and a "phenomenal human being."
          One of Hawkins' first tasks as commissioner was overseeing the consolidation of the state's 12 health and human services agencies into five, which stemmed from a law written during a 2003 budget crunch that also made cuts to state services.
          McCown said that Hawkins didn't solve the state's problems with processing applications for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid in a timely, accurate way. But McCown said that was largely because the Legislature didn't provide money for enough staff.
          State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, said lack of financing from the Legislature might also be to blame for problems that the U.S. Department of Justice found at the state schools for people with mental disabilities.
          (Mr. McCown, please.  It had nothing to do with "not enough money for staff"- but everything to do with a rush to privatize to line the pockets of Perry's buddies.  The state staff that had BEEN in place WERE processing cases timely and accurately before the entire privatization mess.  Where do you think all that enhanced funding from the feds came from?  No, staff left after they got "pink slipped via email" because the "powers that be" CONVINCED the legs that "private" could do it better, faster, and cheaper.  I wonder what the TRUE numbers are to the amt of money that TIERS/call centers/etc have truly cost Texas compared to what it cost BEFORE all this mess)
          In March, Corpus Christi police said they obtained videos showing employees of the state school there organizing fights among residents.
          Hawkins drew sharp criticism for an extensive privatization effort: a deal with Accenture LLP (later canceled) to enroll Texans in public assistance. And an agency he oversees was key in the 2008 child-welfare raid on a West Texas ranch owned by a polygamist sect.
          (Has Texas gotten their payments BACK from Accenture yet?  Or have they swept all that under the rug?)
          Perry has not named a replacement. But Hawkins let the governor know earlier this year that he didn't want to be reappointed, so Perry's office has begun interviewing potential replacements, said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry.
          Among those, Castle confirmed, is Lowell Keig, general counsel for Youth & Family Centered Services, an Austin company that provides health, education and assisted living services to troubled children.
          He is a former chief of the attorney general's Elder Law and Public Health division.
          Keig, who did not return a call seeking comment, has given thousands of dollars to Republican candidates since 2001, including at least $3,000 to Perry's campaign, according to records filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
          (Fabulous, another Perry crony- I wonder if this is all because Perry is going to lose his behind in the next election, and wants to hurry and appoint someone else......)
          cmaclaggan@statesman.com; 445-3548

          This post done through Yahoo! Mail. You can email me at hhscemployee@yahoo.com. Please know all emails are kept confidential, and your identity will never be disclosed.