Friday, April 10, 2009

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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