Thursday, July 01, 2010


Links about the Sanctions:
Off the Kuff has THIS to say.......


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Texas hit with fine for food stamp errors

Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American Statesman
Monday, June 28, 2010
Federal officials have fined Texas $3.96 million for errors in issuing food stamp benefits, according to a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus.
The penalty is for a high rate of overpayments or underpayments two years in a row, said the letter from U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.
Among the four states hit with penalties, Texas was fined the most. Also fined were Indiana ($1.2 million), Maryland ($742,238) and Iowa ($205,730), federal officials said.
Texas plans to appeal, said Geoff Wool, a spokesman for the state Health and Human Services Commission. He said the commission learned of the fine on Friday.
Wool said Texas' appeal will focus on the fact that the number of food stamp recipients in Texas spiked after Hurricane Ike in 2008, increasing 26 percent in the year that followed.
"The effect of the hurricane is certainly something that has disrupted our ability to process applications," Wool said. "We've also seen an increase overall in the number of applications and recipients" because of the economic downturn.
There are 3.56 million Texans now on food stamps. The federal government pays for the food, and federal and state governments split administrative costs.
Wool said that Louisiana successfully appealed a fine after Hurricane Katrina. "We feel like that's a precedent," he said.
In 2009, Texas' "payment error rate," based on overpayments and underpayments, was 6.9 percent, compared with a national average of 4.36 percent, the letter said.
That's the type of error that triggered the fine. The letter also said that Texas performed worse than the national average on a measurement called the "negative error rate," which measures the frequency of improper denials. Texas' negative error rate in 2009 was 14.82 percent, compared with the national average of 9.41 percent.
Wool said that Texas' payment error rate and negative error rate are now below the national average.
Texas has the option of investing half the amount of the fine to improve its food stamp system, the letter said. If the state were to improve, it wouldn't have to pay the other half.
Texas also may pay the fine in full, the letter said.
Meanwhile, federal officials are distributing $30 million to 10 states (plus Guam) for excellence in administering the food stamp program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week.
Texas received such awards for years. From 1998 through 2004, the state got a bonus each year, Wool said. In 2004, Texas' $7.4 million bonus for accuracy was more than any other state's, according to a commission news release from the time.
The most recent fine the commission has a record of is from 1994, when the agency was fined about $10 million, Wool said.
In recent years, the state has struggled to process applications because the commission lost workers in advance of an outsourcing effort and then was hit with Hurricane Ike and the economic downturn, state officials have said.
Celia Hagert, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the recent fine should concern lawmakers "because we used to do a really good job in this area."
"The message this should send to the Legislature is it's important to have an adequately funded and staffed system," said Hagert, whose organization is an advocate for middle- and low-income Texans. "Otherwise, you're going to make mistakes and waste taxpayer money."
In addition to miscalculating benefits, the state has had trouble processing applications within the 30 days required by the federal and state governments. To address an application backlog that hit 42,000 applications last fall, the state has added 850 workers since September.
In December, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sued the commission in state district court in Travis County over the backlog. The group expanded its lawsuit in June, adding more plaintiffs and arguing that the entire food stamp system is purposely dissuading people from participating.
But Wool said, "We feel that because this is a federal program governed by federal rules, the state court is limited in its ability to provide relief." The state is seeking to get the case dismissed, arguing in a June 22 court filing that food stamp processing deadlines aren't mandatory.
"That," said Cynthia Martinez of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, "is about as ridiculous as it sounds. This is an attempt for them to avoid accountability by making the argument that the king can do no wrong because he is the king."

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

And the rollout is back on

So at cutoff this month (May) Region 1 (?) rolls out into TIERS.  After that is ElPaso.
So, CCC (Customer Care Centers) is already THOUSANDS of case actions behind on changes, but we are going to add even MORE people to TIERS?  This makes absolutely NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.
So what happens to the changes?  What happens when someone reports the loss of a job (or a new job) in March, and that change isn't TOUCHED for months?  Do we, as taxpayers, want to issue benefits to someone incorrectly? 
Not to mention that regardless of fault, if we overpay a client (who reported a new job timely, for example) because the AGENCY does not work it that fair? 
None of this makes sense.  TIERS still doesn't do everything it is supposed to.....we are paying millions for this. 

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Complete Insanity

Exclusive: State privatization champion gets contract to help clear up welfare mess
11:59 PM CST on Saturday, March 13, 2010
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – A former state official who played a major role in the state's biggest privatization fiasco is now making money trying to help Texas fix the problems that resulted.
Gregg Phillips was the state's No. 2 social services official several years ago, and he led a push to hire a private company to evaluate applications for public assistance.
Now his Austin-based company, AutoGov Inc., has received $207,500 since November to help the state eliminate errors in deciding whether an applicant gets food stamps or other aid and how much recipients get. AutoGov was hired without other companies having a chance to bid for the work.
Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said that the agency's commissioner, Tom Suehs, and his predecessor, Albert Hawkins, agreed that the company's software might alleviate the problem.
"They both faced the same problem – high error rates – and thought it offered a potential solution," Goodman said.
State laws on former employees lobbying or contracting with agencies would not prohibit such an arrangement, given that Phillips had been off the state's payroll for several years. But critics of the deal say it's troubling that a former employee is getting paid to try to fix problems spawned by an idea he helped hatch.
A leader of a state employees union complained that Hawkins and Suehs – both appointees of Gov. Rick Perry – again have sought high-tech, low-cost fixes for the loss of experienced state workers.
Mike Gross, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, also said he's troubled that Hawkins approved a vendor subcontract with two of his former aides – Phillips and AutoGov's chief executive, Rose A. Hayden, Hawkins' former chief of staff. The company is paid as a subcontractor to the larger firm that the state hired to run the system.
"The whole thing smells very bad," Gross said. "We're now hiring the guy who got us in the mess in the first place. It is absolutely stunning."
Call not returned
Phillips couldn't be reached by phone or e-mail to answer questions about the contract. A receptionist at AutoGov said Hayden was in a meeting and would not be able to return a call.
Hawkins said AutoGov was the right choice because it had experience doing similar work for the Texas Youth Commission and in other states' social programs. He said he saw no conflict of interest or appearance problem.
"Both of them had been gone from the agency, what, four or five years?" Hawkins said. "So I certainly didn't perceive it as being any kind of conflict-of-interest concern."
Hawkins said he didn't put the work up for competitive bidding because "it was within the scope of a contract that was already in place."
He was referring to an interim deal under which Texas pays Reston, Va.-based Maximus Inc. $134 million a year to run eligibility-screening call centers, enroll youngsters in the Children's Health Insurance Program, and assign them a doctor.
It's unclear whether the state could have found a better deal by seeking bids for a contract. Hawkins suggested that had he tried, Maximus might have sued the commission. When pressed, he said: "It at least would have required some contract discussions with Maximus."
Lisa Miles, vice president for investor relations for Maximus, declined to discuss the company's hiring of AutoGov. She referred all questions to Goodman, the state spokeswoman.
Goodman said Suehs, who formally approved Maximus' hiring of AutoGov as a subcontractor on Nov. 10, showed no favoritism toward his former colleagues.
"Played no role in the decision," she said in an e-mail.
Phillips, a former Mississippi state official, served under Hawkins in 2003-04. He headed Perry's 2004 investigation of ineptitude at Adult Protective Services before resigning for health reasons in September 2004.
Hayden was Hawkins' $125,000-a-year chief of staff at the commission and played a role in the agency's help with legislation in 2003, Hawkins said. Earlier, the two were colleagues in Gov. George W. Bush's budget office and at the Legislative Budget Board. Hayden left the state in October 2004.
Phillips helped former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, fashion a 2003 legislative requirement that privately run call centers be used to help process applicants for Medicaid, CHIP, food stamps and cash assistance. He testified before lawmakers on the idea.
Hawkins says the state's key misstep came two years later, when lawmakers ordered a 40 percent reduction of state eligibility staff. But his critics have said he didn't stand up to the state's GOP leaders and demand enough money and time to adequately support and test the proposed public-private screening system.
It was launched in late 2005, after a large outsourcing company, Accenture, won an $899 million, five-year contract. But soon after the state notified its own workers that they might lose their jobs and shifted duties to Accenture – and its main subcontractor, Maximus – the project went sour.
Call centers were jammed, people were wrongfully cut from benefits, and it took months for services to begin once Texans applied.
Most infamously, applicants for a time were given a wrong fax number for sending pay stubs and other private documents. It belonged to a Seattle warehouse that had no part of the deal. That company shredded and threw away the paperwork after unsuccessfully trying for weeks to alert Texas that something was amiss.
By mutual agreement, the Accenture deal was terminated, state workers were rehired and Maximus mostly took over a scaled-down contract. In June, the commission tentatively chose Maximus' bid to continue the work. However, the two sides are still negotiating and haven't settled on a proposed three-year contract, Goodman said.
Delays continue
For Texans hammered by the recession, problems persist. Long processing delays for
food stamps and Medicaid have continued for a year.
A Feb. 25 report by the commission shows the state overpaid or underpaid food stamp recipients 7.3 percent of the time in August, compared with a national rate of 4.3 percent. And it wrongly denied people benefits in 14.3 percent of cases that month, while the nationwide error rate was 8.2 percent.
Celia Hagert, a social programs analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said that between 1999 and 2005, Texas received federal bonuses each year for having low error rates in food stamp processing.
She called it "ironic" that Phillips has re-emerged as fix-it man.
His computer software, no matter how good it may be, is no substitute for hiring back enough state workers "who know what they're doing," Hagert said. "That's the key. The system we have now is neither accessible nor accurate."
Goodman stressed that the commission has no obligation to retain AutoGov if it doesn't meet expectations. The company has billed the state an additional $62,500 but hasn't yet been paid.
"There's no obligation for additional payments beyond those if the tool isn't proven effective during testing," Goodman said.
She said that the commission is exploring whether "similar services are available through DCS," a vendor that checks industrial payroll databases and automobile ownership records to spot applicants who make too much or own too much property to qualify.
Meanwhile, a March 4 AutoGov news release suggested that Phillips and Hayden intend to take their software to terrain even more troubled than Texas.
It said the company recently won contracts from the University of Miami's Project Medishare and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to "implement the software in Haiti's central plateau."

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Saturday, February 27, 2010


So sorry to have not been posting lately- have been very busy in both my personal and business life!

However, I'm here now and have some interesting info...

Evidently, the state has hired Stanley Stewart from Michigan for "consulting" to help get Texas back on track. FNS is likely breathing down the new Commissioner's neck while he tries to clean up the mess made by Albert Hawkins.

Anyway, so TIERS rollout is back ON. Region 1- Lubbock/Abilene area is next to roll out in May. After that, from what I've heard, ElPaso area is after that then SAN ANTONIO! It will be very interesting to see what rollout does to TIERS and it's ability to maintain the caseload.

As it is now, TIERS still has issues where it slows down so much that it's difficult to get a case done quickly. ESPECIALLY at the end of the month, when all recertifications are due.

It's also interesting that the State saw fit to take away local office's "On Site Support" staff who offered technical support to local office staff for TIERS. Now, ART (Assistance Response Team) helps troubleshoot, but that's not really what the state needs. ART has many "bad habits" and to share those with local office staff just makes a case having issues even worse.

So I've heard that it's Mr. Stewart that is advising to do an aggresive rollout and have the whole state in TIERS within a year.

I want to be optimistic about this, and hope it will work and that TIERS does not crash all around us, but I have to be realistic also.

Any gossip out there? Put it in comments.

Letter to the Editor regarding "Bridges"- the computer system in Michigan that's similar to TIERS that Stanley Stewart rolled out in Michigan...

DPHHS contract: In Michigan, Deloitte did all work in-state (Deloitte? As in the same Deloitte that Texas contracts with? Interesting)

Official: Texas Has Worst-Ranked Food Stamp Program