Flood of food stamp applications slows state's conversion to new software
12:00 AM CDT on Friday, April 10, 2009
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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