The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 7:01 pm

Indiana agency begins hybrid welfare plan rollout

By KEN KUSMERAssociated Press Writer
Indiana's human services agency said Tuesday the state's third try at effectively enrolling and keeping people on food stamps and other welfare benefits has begun rolling out, but one affected caretaker said the frustrations keep mounting.

The Family and Social Services Administration said it has begun implementing what it's calling a hybrid welfare intake system, involving caseworkers and some automation, in 10 southwestern Indiana counties. It follows the agency's aborted bid to turn over highly automated welfare intake to private vendors - a plan designed to replace an outdated, paper-based casework system - that remains in 33 counties.

FSSA said the hybrid rollout began last week with phone calls to vendor-run call centers being rerouted to local welfare offices. It continued Monday with 20 state and contract caseworkers moving from the call centers to the 10 counties.

"We listened to our providers, advocates, employees and clients and have combined what worked best in the old system and the modernized system for the hybrid," FSSA Secretary Anne Murphy said in a statement.

However, critics of FSSA's efforts to rely on private vendors to introduce call centers, document imaging and online applications for welfare intake said they remained skeptical.

They included Susan Humphrey of Evansville, who cares for a 44-year-old brother with Down syndrome and an 84-year-old father with Alzheimer's disease. Her brother receives Medicaid, but Humphrey said she and a sister have submitted required documents five times only to learn that the paperwork goes missing. After complaining to lawmakers last year, she was relieved to hear last fall that her brother wouldn't need to reapply until next September at the earliest.

Then she got a letter Monday from the vendor-run Marion service center telling her to expect a telephone call Friday morning to discuss periodic reviews - and resubmissions - for her brother's case. She said it nearly made her cry.

"I just can't believe I have to go through again with everything we've gone through," Humphrey said.

FSSA chose to implement the hybrid system with automation and more caseworkers in the Evansville area because lawmakers, advocates and service providers there have spoken loudest after their problems with the privatized system.

"It really wasn't working at all," said state Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. "I think Anne Murphy understands that and is trying to take the good parts of the old system as well as the new system and put them together. It's really too early to give them a grade one way or another."

Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, introduced a bill that would prohibit FSSA from outsourcing eligibility for the food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits received by 1.2 million Indiana residents, or nearly one in every five.

Riecken's bill is up for a third and final reading in the Democrat-controlled House after being amended Monday to remove the anti-outsourcing provisions and add language creating a panel of lawmakers and an independent third party to monitor FSSA's delivery of public aid. The bill's chances in the Republican-controlled Senate are uncertain.

Noting Humphrey's continuing problems with privatized welfare, Riecken said FSSA and its private partners must be held accountable.

Gov. Mitch Daniels fired Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. from a 10-year, $1.34 billion contract as the lead vendor on the automation project in October. FSSA last month took over the IBM role and began negotiating new contracts with some of IBM's former partners.

FSSA spokesman Marcus Barlow said another key vendor, Austin, Texas-based Arbor Education & Training, is working under the contract the state assumed from IBM while they work out a new contract.

Privatized, automated welfare intake reached 59 counties before Murphy halted it a year ago. The 10 taking part in the hybrid program are Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Warrick and Vanderburgh counties.

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