Friday, April 10, 2009

Texas Overwhelmed Article

Texas overwhelmed by food stamp, Medicaid applications

Overwhelmed by an increase in applications for food stamps and Medicaid, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has postponed plans to expand use of a new computer enrollment system, officials said today.
"The national economic situation has certainly arrived in Texas, at least in our offices," said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the commission.
Statewide, Texas is struggling to meet the 30-day federal standard for processing food stamp applications and the 45-day standard for Medicaid applications. For example, in March, the state met the food stamp deadline for 76.4 percent of applications (95 percent is the goal).
Enrollment in food stamps is up almost 20 percent from a year ago, according to the commission.
The Commission has been gradually expanding use of the TIERS computer system, which was designed to replace a decades-old system called SAVERR that is still in use in many state offices.
TIERS (Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System) is already in place in the Austin area. The El Paso area was scheduled to get the new system next. But the commission's chief, Albert Hawkins, decided to delay the El Paso plan.
Goodman said: "It's tough to make any changes when you're drinking from a fire hose."
She said the problem had to do with workload and not the system itself. The state is struggling to meet time standards for applications in both SAVERR and TIERS, she said.
But TIERS has been criticized, and State Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, vice chairman of the House Committee on Human Services, has filed a bill that would halt further expansion of TIERS until cases processed in the system are completed accurately and on time.
"I applaud Commissioner Hawkins' decision to voluntarily postpone the expansion of TIERS so that previous mishaps, which resulted in lapse of services for eligible Texans, can be avoided," Herrero said in a statement.
Herrero's proposal, House Bill 3859, is scheduled to be considered by the human services committee today.
Here are some of the comments from the article:
By Wood Butcher

April 10, 2009 12:41 PM | Link to this

I think that we as state and a nation are in deep trouble. Discussion of any issue draws personal insults and slights. Dare to say that a program is unconstitutional, when it is popular and brings in votes, then it becomes a question of politics. I would like to see politics discussed but I would like to see the discussion moderated by someone that knows the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Texas Constitution. We have lost sight of what is constitutional as opposed to what is a vote getter. We can not continue to support an ever larger government and ever increasing programs. The issue is not whether State Workers earn their pay but rather how is there going to be enough money to pay them? As more and more industries and institutions become tax free nationalized bureaucracies versus tax producing industries the money to make up the difference has to come from a shrinking pool of taxpayers. As we demand that our government take over personal well being we do so at our the expense of our personal freedom. When you suddenly start asserting states rights, that are incompatible to the way things were done "Back Home" or "Back Where I Came From", there is a culture clash caused by people not understanding the laws of "Our State".


By Beaula

April 10, 2009 9:48 AM | Link to this

The people who are getting food stamps while living in big homes and driving nice cars can't own the homes (and could be only days away from foreclosure) or the cars (could be borrowed). There are asset limits to these programs, which can be a real problem for people who have lost jobs, spent their savings, and can't sell the house or the car for more than the loan values. It takes awhile to learn how to live in poverty.
By kd

April 10, 2009 9:37 AM | Link to this

I am a state employee that left to go to work in the "real world". I more than doubled my salary but I did not enjoy the work. I made more money at the expense of my family. After two years I went back to work for the state but the only difference now is that before with the state I worked 40 hours a week…since being back 3 years I work anywhere from 45-70. And since the overtime has been cut I donate my time after 40 hours. It is against policy to work off the clock but these is no way to meet the demands of the job without the extra time. Remember we are in the business of helping the people of Texas. It may only be 50.00 a month in food stamp benefits but food stamps are a supplement to your income to assist with food cost. And last but not least it is a income based program so if a family is only receiving 50.00 a month it is due to the amount of income they receive monthly.
By Stateworker

April 10, 2009 8:13 AM | Link to this

Dear Newbieposter — you are seriously misinformed about state employees. All I can say to you is "don't hate!" Most of us work very hard, and for less pay than private employees doing the same kind of work. We do have good benefits, but we definitely earn them, and it is incentive to work for less pay than a private company. As far as we "can't get fired," welllll, let me say, I just saw about 4 people eliminated from our office just recently — kind of scary.


By amabo

April 10, 2009 8:03 AM | Link to this

Hey Newbieposter,
you are a newbie "cushy jobs and unlimited budgets"? What state are you talking about? You should try working in the eligibility system for a few weeks and then decide if you want to call it cushy. It's low pay, non-stop work. As for unlimited budgets; you must be overmedicated. This past year the governor asked all agencies to cut back their budgets by 10% due to the projected shortfall of funds. Welcome to the party, but please do a little research first.


By newbieposter

April 9, 2009 9:18 PM | Link to this

have you ever heard of a State worker that didn't think he/she was overworked and overwhelmed? they have cushy jobs where they can't get fired and unlimited budgets; try working in the real world


By Mary

April 9, 2009 5:25 PM | Link to this

National TV news reported that in some states people are getting food stamps that live in multi-million dollar homes, and drive very expensive cars. I hope our state doesn't have these type of applicants.



April 9, 2009 3:44 PM | Link to this

I would like to see any state politician try to live on $50.00 a week for food stamps, eating 3 square meals a day. No job, no insurance and facing eviction! Now that's what I call an enormous problem. Now what about the computer system???????


By backwards move

April 9, 2009 2:46 PM | Link to this

Incompetence in updating a software system is typical on how backwards Texas is. Even in a company software or IT changes are really management facilitated process changes. They can typically take years to completey implement. But who in tarnation wants to stick with outdated methods of running state agencies? This is really shocking but not surprising that "confusion, irresponsibility and sheer incompetence " are what is playing into delaying modern technology that could eventually streenline a business (in this case a state agency).


By whatever

April 9, 2009 11:19 AM | Link to this

Tiers does not work.. If it worked, it would have been rolled out statewide years ago. I say the state should cut their loses and start over. STOP the maddness. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. This insane.


By orlando garza

April 9, 2009 10:37 AM | Link to this

Stephanie Goodman is paid to tell you that all is well in the State of Texas. Ask her anything about what's really happening and her answer would be "duh?". The criminals in this case is HHSC "executive commissioner" Albert Hawkins and Governor Rick Perry. They should be hung by their toenails for crimes against humanity, namely the People of the State of Texas. These guys and their fat-cat cronies are robbing the State of Texas and lining their pockets with kickbacks and lining the pockets of their private sector co-horts with money that should be used to provide real services to those in need. You would think that after spending over one billion dollars on TIERS that it would be fully functional. Think again..TIERS is no where near being functional…as a matter of fact, it is estimated that it will be ten years before TIERS can be rolled out statewide. TIERS is the reason Texas is in this mess. I hope you do not have to wait in line for assistance because it will be a long wait for you.



April 9, 2009 9:50 AM | Link to this

In addition to my previous comment…the adminstrators and supervisors I have worked with to resolve problems have been extremely helpful and responsive to individual client issues. The problem is that there are so many screwed up cases they simply don't have the time or staff to go over every case that should have been handled correctly at the entry level in the first place. How about staffing local offices to full capacity again so clients can actually meet face to face, hand deliver documents, etc. so they don't get lost in the system. I know that the idea of having people apply over the phone was supposed to save money, but the problems created by this have certainly been extremely expensive as well.


By rubert

April 9, 2009 9:44 AM | Link to this

if we would as americans and start pointing are fingers at the people that are here illegaly just may be we wouldn,t have to support everyone that enters this country illegaly



April 9, 2009 9:38 AM | Link to this

Part of the problem with the current system being overwhelmed is that applicants end up having to apply over and over. A person will apply and the application is lost. When the applicant calls to check on why the benefits have not started in the allotted time, they are told we don't have your application, or you didn't send us the proper documentation, etc, etc. I have been working in the social services field for several years and have had more clients that I can remember have these issues with the system. This is on a good day. The last time the state switched computer/data base systems I had clients who were waiting 3 months or more for benefits only to be told the state had never received their applications. I understand that the system is overwhelmed and understaffed. Perhaps the state should concentrate on fixing the existing system (which is done primarily over the phone and through faxing documents) When you have clients submitting applications over and over and clients being removed from eligibility because the state lost their documentation you can begin to see the enormity of the problem.
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Marquez and Herrero Discuss TIERS Rollout

Marquez and Herrero Discuss TIERS Rollout
Say HHSC Decision to Halt Expansion is Just a Start
AUSTIN, TX-State Representatives Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) and Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso) held a press conference today outlining a proposal they joint-authored, HB 3859, which will provide oversight for the rollout of the Texas Integrated Eligibility and Redesign System (TIERS).  Last night, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced that it is postponing its planned rollout of TIERS to Region 10 (El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster Counties).
"In times of economic hardship, as we face today, more Texans are in need of assistance in providing necessities for their families.  For those families, I filed HB 3859 to ensure the health services they are eligible to receive are provided efficiently and continuously," said Herrero.
TIERS is a new computer system intended to streamline and consolidate the application process for vital state services, such as food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families (TANF). In its pilot phase in central Texas, the program has been plagued with design and implementation problems. The program routinely holds up applications beyond federal guidelines, leaving people who are eligible for emergency benefits without them.
"This is an issue that often gets little attention, but it is poised to affect thousands of El Pasoans. I believe strongly that El Paso has to take a stand and demand that this program improve its performance before it is rolled out in our city. We cannot have a situation where technical glitches hold up food and medical care for hard working mothers and families in our area," said Marquez.
As part of HHSC's pilot program, there exist several thousand Region 10 cases already being handled with the new system. Marquez cites the results from those cases to indicate that a lot must be done before expanding the program into El Paso is a responsible action. Of the 64,145 total Region 10 (El Paso) December food stamp cases, only 5,430 (8.5%) were processed in TIERS. Despite this small fraction of cases, HHSC is at only 70.9% of the federal timeliness requirements. The older SAVERR system is handling close to ten times as many cases, and yet it is still processing cases at 92.7% of the timeliness requirements.
"The numbers that HHSC has shared with us do not indicate that TIERS is ready for El Paso. There are still system issues, inadequate staffing, and inadequate training in the program. All of that means that we will likely see the same problems that central Texas has seen--people who are eligible not getting their benefits on time. In this economy, we cannot risk those kinds of delays. That is why I am urging the agency to rethink its plans, and I am encouraged that they have recognized the need to do so in this case," said Marquez.
Marquez has said she will continue to track the issue and has urged the El Paso delegation to monitor the issue closely with her. Herrero and Marquez are laying out bills in the House Human Services Committee today addressing different parts of the eligibility/enrollment system.

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Flood of food stamp applications slows state's conversion to new software 

Flood of food stamp applications slows state's conversion to new software

12:00 AM CDT on Friday, April 10, 2009
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – State social services officials, buffeted by a recession-driven surge in food stamp applications, have postponed further expansion of a troubled software system for handling requests for public assistance.
Social services czar Albert Hawkins said in a written statement Thursday that in Central Texas a recent conversion of about 75,000 families' cases to the new TIERS system has had "some challenges in achieving the timeliness benchmarks."
Under federal rules, applications for food stamps are supposed to be processed in 30 days.
But last month, Texas met that goal only about three quarters of the time, down from 83 percent of the time a year earlier, said Hawkins, executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission.
He cited a 20 percent increase in food stamp enrollment over the past year – 24 percent in Dallas County. Aid applications of all kinds jumped by 14 percent during that time.
Hawkins also indicated, though, that state eligibility workers have complained about insufficient mentoring and too little time to practice their skills with software known as Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS.
The state has been shifting food stamp, Medicaid and welfare recipients in Central Texas from an old mainframe computer to TIERS.
It planned to fully convert the El Paso region's caseload to TIERS next. However, Hawkins suspended that rollout indefinitely.
For months, he has been telling lawmakers he was unhappy with processing times and quality at Central Texas state offices.
Hawkins' delay of the switch of El Paso to TIERS also slows conversion of other regions, including North Texas, which was to happen in three phases next year.
Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman, asked if Dallas-area rollouts are affected, said, "Yes, they are also on hold."
Hawkins' move was applauded by lawmakers critical of TIERS.
Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, who has filed a bill to halt further TIERS rollouts until it meets federal standards for timeliness and accuracy in processing applications, said families facing economic hardship deserve good service.
"I applaud Commissioner Hawkins ' decision to voluntarily postpone the expansion of TIERS so that previous mishaps, which resulted in lapse of services for eligible Texans, can be avoided," Herrero said.

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Vendor Scheduling

Wanted to address this comment as well:
Now local office are told not to send in the applications for the vendor to schedule but to have the local clerical staff schedule them. This is due to vendor scheduling applications untimely and several regions are under corrective action for timeliness directly related to the scheduling by the vendor. Amazing that the vendor was hired to do this work but as always the work has been pushed to the local level. What are they being paid for?

I know.  Funny how when it all shakes out, it's the ADVISORS- THE WORKERS- who are put on corrective action, coached, etc for failing to meet timeframes- EVEN WHEN THESE WORKERS DON'T GET THE INFORMATION/APPT TIMELY!  Vendors, from what I understand, will schedule anything in the "next available appt" with NO regard to that particular case, when it's due, etc.  So slots can get filled with May/June 2009 recertifications (for example) and then as April 2009 recerts come in ... THERE ARE NO SLOTS and they are scheduled into May- LATE.  Local offices had control over that type of thing- and having vendor schedule, and not knowing how many apps are going to end up in Midland - it is impossible to plan the workload.
Again, the clients suffer and the workers suffer.  When offices had control over their schedule, they could plan, hold open slots, etc.  Problem is, you can have the local office schedule, but you never know how many clients are sending 1010's to Midland.  When you have a rolled out area, all the recert packets have the Midland return envelope.  So the choice to control it is GONE. 
Local offices are on CAPS over this, is the vendor?  The more they push through, regardless of whether it was done right or not, the more they "justify" their position.

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Email regarding 2-1-1

Got this in email, and felt like I needed to respond:
The 211 information and referral option (option 1) actually works quite
well. That option has nothing to do with food stamps but gets a really bad
rap from frustrations like yours. I really don't mind your expressions of
frustration over the TIERS portion, but when you mention 211 in one lump
with TIERS, you are dragging the hard won, good work of 211 down with
misinformation. Dial 211 from Anywhere in the state, choose option 1 and ask
the call specialist to explain the difference. The option 1 folks are
wonderful and make a huge positive difference in peoples lives! They are NOT
for profit vendors. They work 24 hours a day, and they answer 80 percent of
their calls in 60 seconds or less.
To the writer, I'm not talking about the referral service.  I'm talking about the componet of 2-1-1 that handles our client calls.  They are given mis-information, and because they are not state employees and do not know policy- it's next to IMPOSSIBLE to give correct information.  What is equally frustrating is the relationship between them and the local office staff.  Let me give you an example- let's say I interview a client in TIERS.  My case comments have my NAME, MY DIRECT PHONE NUMBER and all the information from the interview.  Because my notices don't print my name, if the client has a question, they call 2-1-1.  Instead of referring that client BACK TO ME personally, the LOCAL worker, they try to answer the question (or verify that information has or has not been turned in- true story:  had a client sent in checkstubs- when scanned, they weren't readable.  Client calls 2-1-1 and is told that information has been received- I try to contact client to ask them to bring checkstubs to LOCAL OFFICE for me, since they were not readable, can't reach client- I leave COMMENTS to that affect.....operator still tells client info there, case should be completed- had to DENY case- all the operator had to do is REFER *MY* CLIENT TO *ME*, but did not)...when you do have the operator refer client to office, they tell them they do not know who the worker is (remember, my NAME is there!) and give them main office number.
That's not client service, no matter how you slice it.
So again, yes- the information and referral service is fabulous.  It is.  Much better updated information than "we" have...but the other side of it?  NOT at all.

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