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.