. . . 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