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Daniels plans major changes in welfare

Indiana residents who need to use the state’s welfare programs will see some major changes this year in applying for public assistant programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and temporary assistance for needy families (TANF). But those who currently receive benefits from those programs should not see any delays or changes in current benefits.
Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a $1.16 billion contract last week to pay an IBM Corp.-led team to help modernize the state’s eligibility system, which Daniels says will reduce error in human service programs like food stamps and Medicaid.
The billion-dollar contract requires the state to pay IBM over 10 years to help process applications in the state’s human services industry and provide technical support to the state’s Family and Social Services Administration.
Some administrators in Harrison County’s human services private sector are wary of the partnership formed between Indiana and IBM.
Shirley Raymond, executive director of Harrison County Community Services, said yesterday she does not approve of Daniels’ move to privatize the welfare system.
‘It’s just unbelievable,’ Raymond said. ‘If you don’t have that face-to-face with people, they’re going to get lost.’
Raymond said community services is the point of entry for many people in need of services, and her office refers them to where they need to go to find the services they need.
After the new system is in place, Raymond said she no longer believes it will be easy for her office to make referrals.
‘Medicaid, food stamps, they’re complicated programs,’ she said. ‘It’s paramount that human services keep up with the changes so people don’t get lost in the shuffle.’
Raymond said her office shares information with the DFR and the Dept. of Child Services when they have releases from clients which makes finding services much easier, a partnership which after the transition she is afraid will disappear.
‘I think our workload is going to increase drastically in terms of advocacy for our clients,’ Raymond said.
She also thinks the new call centers will make it much harder to get information for their clients.
‘It’s going to be an extremely difficult transition for people,’ Raymond said, adding that many of her clients do not have computer access and some do not even have a phone.
‘They’re struggling as it is,’ she said.
It is still unclear how the move will affect Harrison County residents, but major changes will be made in the way persons apply for public assistance. Harrison County currently has 260 residents receiving a TANF grant, 1,085 residents receiving food stamps and more than 4,000 residents enrolled in a Medicaid program, according to statistics provided by the FSSA.
James Miller, director of Harrison County’s Division of Family Resources, said he has been instructed to refer all questions to the FSSA Communications Office and could not comment on any matters regarding the move made by Daniels.
Dennis Rosebrough, FSSA director of communications, could not provide full details of the transition over to the IBM-led team.
Rosebrough said the state would phase in the changes gradually beginning this spring in Grant County. He said he believes Harrison County is part of the third phase but did not know when that phase was scheduled to begin.
‘We want to do it right, not fast,’ Rosebrough said last week.
New computer systems and telephone call centers will be put in place to use computers to drive the process with self-surveys, instead of interviews, and make applications available through the Internet and the call centers.
In a letter to FSSA employees, Mitchell Roob, FSSA secretary, said employee transition would begin in March. Some employees will be retained as state employees and some may be hired by IBM.
Harrison County has 12 employees working for the DFR and that number will be cut to 10 in March. Only four state-merit positions will be available. Six positions will be made available by IBM in Harrison County. Nine of those 10 positions will be open for applicants, which means many DFR employees will have to reapply for their own job to keep their position or one similar.
Roob told FSSA employees that those who join the IBM team will be offered employment at a ‘location within 50 miles of their current work location, when possible.’
The move will eliminate about 1,500 jobs statewide, although IBM Corp. is required to hire those employees and retain them for at least two years at no less pay or benefits. Only 700 state jobs will be made available by the FSSA.
The FSSA, which will spend $500 million internally on the plan, has not commented as to what will happen to employees who are not retained by the state and do not wish to relocate if hired by IBM.
The money that would be paid to IBM comes from a mix of federal and state funds. The state’s portion of the funds will be significant and will still need to be appropriated by Indiana’s General Assembly. Indiana operates on a two-year budget, due to be passed this year by the legislature.
The USDA has only approved funding for Indiana’s food stamp program for a trial period of one year. The program costs about $30 million annually.
The Daniels’ administration says the move will help improve services to clients; reduce errors, waste and fraud; and improve the state’s welfare reform record.
Daniels said last week in a statement the move was ‘clearly in the public interest,’ and would save taxpayers billions of dollars and provide ‘better service and a better chance to escape welfare for the world of work and self-reliance.’
The administration claims the state will save nearly $500 million in administration costs over the next 10 years and countless millions more due to reduced error and federal penalties.
Daniels has said each of Indiana’s 92 counties will retain an office where people could apply in person for benefits and all final eligibility determinations will be made by state employees.
According to the contract, IBM will create 1,000 jobs over the next four years, including 850 in the next two years. They will also provide more than $8 million in computer equipment and services to the state.
Daniels’ administration hopes to begin phasing in the program in August although Roob has said employees who move to IBM will do so on March 5.
Daniels’ plan has gotten a lot of scrutiny from state legislatures and government employees who have noted that similar privatization deals in Texas and Florida have had their share of problems, such as long waiting times for calls to the telephone-operated call centers.
State Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, and State Rep. Joe Micon, D-West, both have drafted bills which would require any privatization to be detailed to lawmakers before moving forward with any privatization plan. Those bills are expected to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.