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HHSC sued over food stamp delays

This will definitely bear watching.

Legal services lawyers for the poor have filed a class-action lawsuit demanding immediate repair of Texas’ much-criticized eligibility screening system for health and welfare programs.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Austin late Friday by two impoverished Irving women who applied for food stamps more than two months ago but still haven’t been interviewed by the state Health and Human Services Commission.

In June, the state failed to determine eligibility of more than one-third of new food stamp applicants within the federally required 30 days, the suit says.

It says the delays meant that 55,276 applicants didn’t receive word on whether they qualify. Among those kept in the dark apparently were some who don’t have money for rent or food and under state law are supposed to be processed as “expedited” cases within 24 hours.

“The law is clear. You have timeframes in which to certify people. And they are not doing that,” said Bruce Bower, deputy director of Texas Legal Services Center, which brought the suit.

“I think that they do not have enough staff to do the work,” Bower said of the commission.

[…]

Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said the state processed 50,000 more food stamp applications in the first six months of this year than in the same period last year.

“We’re drinking from a fire hose right now,” she said.

Although a privatization experiment launched four years ago drove hundreds of experienced state workers to seek other jobs, the commission has gradually added more staff – some 700 in the past year, Goodman said.

“We’ve got more workers and we’re processing more cases than we were a year ago, but it simply hasn’t been enough to keep pace with the growth in applications,” she said.

Goodman attributed many of the problems to Hurricane Ike and the economic slowdown.

“We’re asking for more staff and looking at other ways to deal with the increased workload,” she said. Goodman said the two-year budget that takes effect on Sept. 1 allows the commission to request 656 new eligibility workers, and it is doing just that.

Celia Hagert, a nutrition policy expert with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said a poor economy can’t be blamed for the system’s current woes.

“The delays aren’t just a result of the recession,” Hagert said. “We’ve been out of compliance with federal performance standards for three years now. The question is whether we’re adding staff fast enough.”

I refer you to my blog post of May 19, 2008, which noted that the feds were complaining that “far too many approvals [of food stamp applications] remain untimely and call center performance needs to be more constant.” Going back to February 20, 2008, a review by the Statesman showed that “less than half — 48 percent — of Texas food stamp applications processed using the updated computer system, known as TIERS, are completed within the 30 days the federal government requires.” In other words, the excuses about Hurricane Ike and the economic slowdown are just that – excuses.

This has the potential to cost the state a lot of money. Which, given that the root cause of all this – the disastrous experiment of privatizing HHSC with Accenture – was a misguided attempt by the state to save money, would be rather ironic. And when the federal judge ultimately socks it to us, remember that we will have Rick Perry to thank for it. HHSC Employee has more.

UPDATE: I received the following email in response to this:

Dear Mr. Kuffner:

In your Aug. 5 post about the lawsuit filed by two Irving residents against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission alleging a failure to process food stamp applications in a timely manner, you erroneously link this issue to the integrated eligibility project managed by the Accenture-led Texas Access Alliance from 2005-2007

The fact is that the Alliance only handled food stamp applications for Travis and Hays counties – just two of Texas ’ 254 counties. These two counties represent just seven percent of Texas ’s total food stamp population. The vast majority of the backlog of food stamp applications exist across the state, including in Dallas County where the two Irving women reside. It is inaccurate to link our 2007 project in two counties to statewide food stamp application backlogs in 2009.

I thought you might appreciate knowing the facts.

Sincerely,

Peter Y. Soh
Accenture

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20 Comments

  1. […] Chron now has a story about the lawsuit that has been filed over Texas’ inability to process food stamp applications in the federally-required 30 day […]

  2. Sara says:

    There is more to just hiring 656 new workers. Texas need to reevaluate the income they are paying their employees. the income does not match what private sectors pay for the volume of work, stress, late hours, that is required of the worker in the foodstamp and also the medicaid units.

    The income they are offering is a help to pay bills, meet some needs, but for the stress and work load the income is not enough. They seriously need to revaluate the income. Supervisors also need to go to some supervisor training. This is another issue with why the state is losing so many employees. so please don’t just look at there are not enough employee. Also look at why so many are leaving, it is more than just the money, there are a lot of reasons. Fairness, to employees from supervisors, Rude supervisors and etc.

    So if you guys can look at other avenues, concerning the delinquences, it would be greatly appreciated.

  3. […] this Chron story about the problems with the Health and Human Services Commission and its problems processing food stamp applications is stuff we’ve seen before. Just a couple of things to highlight: […]

  4. mad as hell says:

    I am a mother of four and i work and go to school and i have been without my food stamp benefits since july. This is ridiculos because when they send you an appointment it is for the end of october or sometime in November. What are people suppose to tell their kids until then. My kids cant eat an appointment letter. After i pay rent and child care i am lucky if i have 100 left to last till the next paycheck. The state doesn’t enforce child support payments as they should. So where does it leave those who are not taking advantage of the system but really need the help. HHSC’S left me shit stuck out of luck with for starving kids. After raising hell for 3 months i finally have an appointment for Friday i will see how long it takes them to complete my case after the appointment.

  5. mad as hell 2! says:

    I am a mother of four and i work i make just bearly enough money to pay all my bills all i want is a little extra help with the food and the kids medical insurance. I finally get an appointment i have everything they ask for and now i have been waiting for over a month to get my food stamp benifits and the kids medicade. I work every single day of the week including weekends i don’t have the Privilege to spend all day in the foodstamp office checking on my case i have been calling everysingle day for the same bullshit diffrent answer everyday “your case is pending”, “check in 24 to 48 hrs”, “our system is down” just tell me you don’t give a shit you lazy ass goverment workers. I pay my dam taxes! It sucks that the department of health and human service is the same everywhere!

  6. Sick and tired says:

    I am a mother of 6 children and I am so fed up with the run around I have been getting. My benefits ended in July and I sent in my recertification paper work the day after I received it. That was July. In August I finally get a letter about an appointment in SEPTEMBER!! I went to my appointment and jumped through all of the hoops and now it has been almost 2 months and still no benefits. I am sick with a kidney disease and my husbands hours were cut drastically due to problems with the economy. It is not like I always dreamed of being on food stamps. It sucks and it is humiliating. I have had 4 people tell me 5 different things in the last week. It is so obvious they are lying. Yesterday I was told by a supervisor that my worker went on vacation and left my case UNFINISHED on her desk. The supervisor is incredibly rude and lacks any kind of customer service skills as do 75% of the people working in the HHSC. They talk to me like I am a piece of crap and in the meantime….I am sure all of them have plenty of food in their refrigerators and do not have their 5 year old child asking why we dont have enough to eat. It has come to a point that we have had to choose to keep the electricity on or buy food. What the hell is going on? Why does it seem that these people have noone they have to answer to?

  7. Texas Works Advisor says:

    I’m a caseworker with HHSC- and while I appreciate Accenture emailing you- they didn’t just handle HAYS and TRAVIS county- but any case STATEWIDE that was in the TIERS system- and with Women’s Health Program- there were many.

    “mad as hell 2” I’m sorry you are having these issues- not sure what office you go to- but you have the right to call the supervisor, supervisor’s supervisor (Program Manager) and also the Regional Director. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s not “lazy govt workers”- we have more than we can handle, with no time to do it. There are many of those “lazy govt workers” who work late, work weekends, and miss out on their own family lives- to help get cases finished as fast as they can.

    “sick and tired”- I will say, as an employee in the office- that your proclamation that “we” have “Plenty of food” is laughable. See, I can’t ask for help when I get in a crunch, and there are many a month my kids have eaten hamburger meat, chicken, and noodles/rice all month. I know how to take $100 and stretch it.

    Contact your legislators- after all, they are the ones who make our rules, they and USDA. Just today, in the Austin American Statesman, we were denied permission by the Texas legislature budget committee to hire more workers that are so desperately needed. This That’s not us, that’s your elected officials.

  8. J says:

    I lost my job due to and on the job injury they have no workmans comp and the lawyers would not pursue a back injury stating that the employer could simply say I did not recieve and injury at work . The end result is I am now disable have filled for disabillity and getting the same bullshit run around from them that I got from the food stamp office I was rejected the letter stated that they reviewed my previous work history and seen that I was a Truck driver about ten years ago and there for they feel that I could return to that profession I take morphine every two to three hours and have not been able to sleep more than 4 hrs without waking up in pain sounds logical to me lets see I have sleep apnea and fall asleep behind the wheel so I dont drive more than 15 miles on my own I take the morphine so I tend to be more out of it more like drunk so sure I can handle a 84000lb truck!! I walked in to my local food stamp office to turn in my application stood in line at the window behind a wetback he could not speak any english after a few minutes the lady at the second window got off the phone and I figuerd I could now be waited on instead she told me I needed to sit down and wait my turn that the people sitting in the chairs behind me were all waiting ahead of me there was no sign stating to sit and wait and all of the people behind me spoke up and told her they had already been waited on the wetback walked out of the building and back in several times each time returning to the window nobody told his ass to sit down and wait I guess he was checking to see if the border patrol was coming after a few minutes of this a mexican woman came to the front and called over to him addressing him as Mr Dodd he and I both were looking around trying to figure out who she was talking to she than spoke to him in spanish and took him to the back . The bitch at the second window then took my paper work through aside in some bin and told me ( rudely of course ) that they would be calling me with a phone interview this was August 12,2009 my wife called several times and was given a different story each time so I went back to there office again and waited while all these women were comming in and complaining that they hadnt recieved enough food stamps one mexican girl said she had another baby a month ago so they needed to increase her food stamps I told her she needed to get some birth control education she smiled and told me she didnt even know which one of her boy friends was the father of this one she was so drunk at the party she could not remember who she had sex with one of her friends had a party for some one who just got back from basic training in the army and that she was only getting $400 a month it was not enough. I finnally recieved my phone interview October 15th they informed me that I would need to go to my doctor and get him to fill out a disabillity form this cost me $65 for Dr office I was then told that they would send me a notice in the mail as to how much if any thing I would get in food stamps we did not recieve or hear any thing from them every time we called we were told that they were back logged finnally I called an demanded to speak to the supervisor and was connected to my case worker she assured me that she would enter my information into the computer and have and answer for me by monday Nov 16th by wed Nov 18th I called again having not heard or gotten anything in the mail demanded again supervisor number and finnally got it by thursday night they called to inform me that I only Qualify for $37 a month that my wife made to much money she has diabetes krones and IBS her meds and doctor visits cost about 400 to 600 a month ther for we never have enough money to pay all of our bills we got some help from the local food pantry but they can only help once a month my brother in law brought us some fish and some deer meat he had from last year most of it was freezer burned so I got my brother the help me cut off the bad stuff and grind the rest up and make sausage so with the seasoning you could not taste the freezer burn taste. the Texas system is not set up right and after talking to that supervisor he explained that ther are a lot of people who deserve help and cant get it but the guidlines they have do not allow fro medicall expenses unless you are both disable then you can only claim your monthly meds no Dr copays . I did not qualify for Medicade because of my wifes car she has a plain jane 2007 cobalt manual windows no cruise no electric door locks yet due to our bad credit we had to pay 16% interest to get it so we owe 10,000 on a car that is worth 5000 they figure it as equity that you are suppose to sell the car for the 10,000 and use the 5000 to pay your bills! excuse me Uncle sam werent you all just giving people up two 4500 incentives to buy new cars and get the junkers like her previous car 2001 neon with 175000 miles on it that we traded in 2007 for this cars down payment. And then what she suppose to walk to work beens we live six miles from her job and there are no buses the system is set up so that these girls can spread there legs get knocked up recieve medicade food stamps and wick for thereselves and every kid they pop out and all they are required to do in most cases is have a part time job and a bad memory about which one the guys at the orgy was catholic and didnt use a condom !!!!!!!!!!!

  9. […] Back in August, a federal lawsuit was filed over the interminable delays that food stamp applicants face in Texas getting their forms processed. That suit was dismissed in October by Judge Sam Sparks on the grounds that the federal law didn’t allow for suits, so now the same lawyers as before have refiled in state court. The suit, filed in state district court in Travis County, asked that the Health and Human Services Commission be ordered to comply with the rules, which require decisions on non-emergency food stamp applications to be made within 30 days. […]

  10. annoymous says:

    yea we were suppose to get our food stamp on thee first and we still hadnt recieved it

  11. […] employees leave the agency, which is the proximate cause of the staff shortages that led to the initial lawsuit over food stamp application processing delays. Ike was a factor, but without that screwed up […]

  12. Just Another Lazy Government Worker says:

    As far as being lazy, no. That’s a lot of our clients. One of the reasons we have bad attitudes sometimes is because we have people lie to our faces about their income, about resources, about the father of the children in the home, etc, etc, etc. We have bad attitudes sometimes because we deal with people who talk to us like we are DOGS.
    I can’t count the number of times I’ve worked 12 hour days and STILL had a pile of work the next morning and 30 phone calls a day to answer.

    So don’t tell me I’m lazy. Okay? I work my butt off, and as someone said above, we aren’t paid nearly enough for what we do.

    And…if some of you didn’t spend your FS on ice cream and cokes, your kids would have more food to eat.
    Guess what? Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes, BOTH parents have to work.

    I’ll close now, before I really start telling the truth.

  13. So Mad Im Seeing Red says:

    i was a the food-stamp office today to turn in paperwork for completion of my case and in a nutshell their system of having people sign in at the front desk then having your name called as windows become available is ridiculous. I signed in and asked the sign in person how long the wait was he said he wasn’t sure so i go sit down and wait and wait and wait and i look up to see that an hour has passed and in that time i was waiting probably 6 names were called none of which were mine. so i go back up to the desk and ask the chic sitting there again if she knew how long the wait is she says she isn’t telling anyone how long the wait is, By this time i can already feel my head getting hot literally so i sit down and wait some more and i sat and watched the reason why so little was getting done. the Ladies behind the window were joking and laughing with each other or simply just sitting there staring at the computer in the 30 extra minuets that i waited only 3 more names were called there was at least 5-7 minuets that passed between those callings where the workers both behind the window and at the front desk were just talking to each other and taking their sweet time about doing their job like the people waiting don’t have a schedule to keep or families to feed what sent me thru the roof was when the chic @ window one starts asking the sign in chic if shes going to have a break and they go back and forth talking about that then the chic at the desk goes to talk to someone in the back regarding her break leaving no one to call names out and two available windows open for service. let me tell you i was pissed still am sort of my only day off to deal with this matter and i did not complete my task i still have paperwork that needs to get to the case worker before the due date and now i have to take time of my job next week to turn in paperwork so that my case dose not get denied

  14. Betty says:

    I applied for food stamps on August 18, 2010 and didn’t get my appointment set until November 9th..Then the case worker hung up before I could answer the phone…I called her back and did the phone interview…She reset the appointment for the 19th of November…Now mind you, I had been looking for a job on foot and on the computer…When I got that phone interview, the case worker was ssooooo rude…She had the nerve to ask if I had tried to get a job at McDonald’s yet?…I held my temper and said Yes ! ! Also I have tried Taco Bell, Domino’s, Burger King and Wendy’s…When I hung up, I call 211 here in Texas and got the number to a regional supervisor…Very nice man took my call and was apologetic for the lady’s behavior..No cooth he said..I was approved within minutes but had to recall the next day and was told I had to get a new card…They had to back date the food stamps from August 18….I got 868.00 put on my card….I am still homeless and still fighting the system..I work 60 hours a week to have a place to sleep at night instead of sleeping on the streets…Tell me …What gives…

  15. texaschick says:

    “Guess what? Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes, BOTH parents have to work.”

    If you’ve got several children, child care costs more than you make especially if you only make minimum wage.

    I haven’t heard one person here say they appreciated the food stamps our govt. provides…..I’ve only heard them complain.

    During the Depression, there were no food stamps and many people walked many miles a day to work for food for their families and were thankful to be paid with food so they could feed their families.

  16. Former Texan says:

    I’m a former State worker and can tell you there are some lazy indifferent ones whose attitude toward the public is despicable. When I worked in the medical field and sent people to DSHS offices very few came back without some horror story of the incredible rudeness that was spirit breaking. My boss went to a DSHS office to drop off literature for our clinic and was appalled at the way they spoke to people. Welcome to the world of the arrogant entitled State worker who in their frustration with their own powerlessness stick it to people who they look down on. Oh and if you want to talk to a supervisor because someone treated you like a cockroach, good luck with that, you will never get a return call. The supervisors answer? they just ignore the complaints.

    Because of a serious illness I lost my job and ended up on assistance myself. I got 16 dollars a month in food stamps in Texas, had to jump through incredible hoops to get that. they spend all their time and money shuffling papers with an agenda to be the gatekeepers that keep the gate shut. I guess they hope you will just go away. The list of documentation is incredible and I can tell you were they are spending their money in social services in Texas, they are organizing paperwork.

    I finally left and went to another state. I put an application on line, had a phone call for the food stamp interview within 24 hours and picked up my EBT card within 48 hours of applying with 5 times more foodstamps than Texas allowed me for the same resources. It was absolutely mind-boggling as if Texas is a planet of its own. Whatever created such a work force of consistently rude and incompetent people it is wide spread throughout the state. And, when you are served with just a little bit of respect and competence you are very grateful for it. Workers don’t own these foodstamps they seem to have an attitude you are un deserving and taking it from their pocket

  17. Yada Yada says:

    Well, again, I’m the same state worker who posted above as Just Another Lazy Government worker.
    To the person above: are you admitting you committed fraud? Because I doubt you moved to another state just to get benefits, and if you applied in another state claiming residency there-I hope you get caught, and soon.
    I’m not lazy. We average 14 appts a day here. When I first started this job nine years ago, the number was half that. Not only that, we are expected to complete cases the SAME DAY we receive all the information.
    So, after doing 14 appointments and each of us fitting in 2 extra “emergency” appointments a day, we’re expected to stay and finish cases with information turned in that day. If it’s one, it’s one.
    If it’s TEN, tough luck. We’ll be here for another 12 hour day.
    We get called idiots by people who can’t even hold jobs down without cursing out the employer when they quit because they are told to wipe off a toilet seat or something they think is beneath them.
    I have held three different jobs at various points in my life. I am forty years old, and have never had my rent paid for me, or any bills.
    I have worked for every scrap of anything I’ve ever had.
    So don’t call me or others doing this job, lazy, okay?
    I’m also not incompetent.
    I seriously challenge any of the big mouth clients who think they can do better to come and do my job for a month or two.
    You won’t last. We put up with unimaginable crap. You people have NO IDEA.

  18. Yada Yada says:

    Meant to say, I have held as many as three different jobs at a TIME. Almost always, have had a part time job on the side, though not currently.
    Worked my way through and paid my way through, college, myself.

    I find the people who complain the most, are the ones who have always had things done for them, handed to them, etc.

  19. texasgirl says:

    Yada Yada: my family was doing ok until my hubbie lost his job with a family business due to business slowing down in the recession. We have three children and applied for benefits in our hometown. We started receiving them about a month later. About the same time he got hired for a state job in Austin and we borrowed money (they wouldn’t pay for the move) and uprooted our lives to come here for the job. We go to x-fer our benefits (we have a newborn- 3 months old at this time) and are told that this town uses a different system than the other town and we will have to wait for the x-fer. In the meantime I’ve got a small child who is getting behind on immunizations so I go into the office to ask if there is a low cost clinic I can use in the area or if they can expedite x-ferring our Chip. Keep in mind we ALREADY HAD benefits, all I was trying to do was x-fer to a different town, and our income was about to pick back up at which time we would cancel the benefits. We had not ever been on benefits before and would certainly not have used them if there was any other choice! I was treated like DIRT when I simply when in to ask this question. I was polite and calm and said “do you know what I should do about medical care in the meantime or have any suggestions” and she looked at me, rolled her eyes, and yells, “what are you talking about.. you come in here.. what the hell are you even saying!” *turns around to caseworker behind her* do YOU know what she’s sayin? oh lord.. *sighing, rolling eyes, and raising her voice at me* “what do you WANT!” I repeat my simple and very clear question at least 3 times and every time she gets angrier and yells at me as if I’m speaking latin.. It was so degrading to be treated that way when I went in with a nice attitude just wanting to ask a question, I literally went out to my car and cried for 30 minutes. And never got an answer. Anyway, I personally know, bc my husband had worked in the state system off and on over the years, how hard a caseworkers job is and how much they have to put up with so I always made it a point to be extra friendly and polite… but I have to say, rare is the time when that attitude is even remotely returned. There is no reason, even if you are stressed out, to literally verbally abuse someone who is seeking help. And good luck getting any supervisor to listen to you. And I know the flame war that will ensue by saying this, but I personally feel that if you are not a minority, there are many caseworkers who believe you have no right to be in the system. Everyone has suffered through this recession. Please be kind to people who are already suffering. you never know what someone has been through.

  20. Not Just Texas... says:

    It’s not just Texas. I applied for SNAP benefits over 30 days ago in Arkansas after losing my job. I am a divorced mother of six childern in my custody. I recieve no child support from my ex, the Office of Child Support, is lagging behind as well. In the mean time, I have exhausted all the food banks in my county, used utlity money to purchase grogeries. When I call and ask about my case I am told it is “pending”…all my paperwork is in order, so I’m not sure why it’s still pending. I have recieved no phone calls or letters concerning my case. By federal law if you qualify you must recieve benefits within 30 days! What is there excuse…” it’s up to the superviser” whom I’ve never seen and have only heard over a recorded voicemail. So, yeah it’s not just Texas…..