Considerable information has been reported recently about problems with the privatized State benefits system. The State administers Medicaid, Food Stamps and Aid for Need Families (TANF) and has contracted with IBM to provide these benefits.
According to newspaper reports the problems include lengthy processing times for receiving benefits, a big backlog of Medicaid cases, lost paperwork, incorrect denials and various other issues. I certainly hope for the benefit of those who need these services that the State is able to correct these problems with service delivery.
What the State has done through its $1.16 billion IBM contract is to set up a system that requires persons to apply for benefits either online or by phone. Previously the State had caseworkers, who conducted personal interviews with clients and determined eligibility for benefits.
The privatized workers then process the claims at processing centers. Under the State system, a client never has the opportunity to speak personally with a caseworker and explain his or her situation. A client never has the opportunity to personally hand necessary documents to a caseworker to ensure the documents get into the correct file.
While we all understand the advantages of technology, there are some things that still need a “personal touch.” Here at Wayne Township we continue to provide Assistance the “old fashioned” way.
Everyone seeking Assistance from Wayne Township has the opportunity for a face-to-face interview with an investigator. That investigator reviews the client’s documents and listens to what the client has to say.
I like our system for several reasons. If the client provides all necessary documentation, the investigator is able to make an immediate decision as to eligibility and to immediately issue vouchers. That way we avoid the backlog the State has experienced.
Further, each case is different. Clients don’t always fit into molds that can be addressed by a uniform computerized application. When an investigator has the opportunity to speak with a client, that investigator can make a better decision as to what would best meet that client’s needs.
If the client is not eligible for Township Assistance, our investigator will refer the client to our Resource Specialist. The Resource Specialist will work with the client to try to find other avenues of help.
When clients come into our office, they already are under considerable stress. They often are facing the possibility of losing their homes because they cannot keep up with their mortgage or rent. They are behind in utility payments or don’t have the money to pay for their prescriptions.
Further, many of our clients don’t have computers and are not familiar with them. Many don’t have home phones either. Asking them to apply for benefits on line or by phone is another stressor they should not have to face.
Clients deserve being able to meet with an investigator to help guide them through the system in their time of need. A system that requires persons to fill out an on-line application for assistance and fax in documents is a system that shows no compassion or respect for the persons we are trying to help.
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee