Better living through science?
Garfield County social services director Lynn Renick is just as troubled as other Colorado county administrators with a new statewide computer system that was supposed to streamline social service benefit processing.Instead, the Colorado Benefits Management System is proving to be more of a nightmare than a dream. “The dream of improving access to public assistance and medical benefits by providing one-stop shopping has been realized after 10 years of development,” says the Colorado Benefits Management System Web page, which is on the state’s Web site. But not according to Renick. She told county commissioners Monday that she and her staff are “frustrated and anxious” about the significant glitches and bugs in the system. The delay is causing the county, like other counties in the state, to fall far behind in processing cases, which in turn is causing a delay in benefits. Thousands of casesRenick said the state contracted Electronic Data Systems out of Plano, Texas, to create the management system, and that the state Legislature approved more than $180 million to pay for it. Having an accurate, efficient social services system is imperative, as more than $2 million a month in benefits passes through its coffers.In Garfield County, social services distributes about $146,000 a month in food stamps, $2 million in health care benefits, and $80,000 in cash benefits. Out of Garfield County’s approximately 3,500 social services benefits cases – which include health care, food stamps, senior pensions and cash assistance – social service staff has only been able to process 79 cases since CBMS went online Sept. 1. In addition, more than 220 new cases above and beyond the 3,500 have come in within the past month and are waiting for processing.What was wrong with the old system?Renick said that Colorado’s old benefits system, Legacy, was antiquated and needed replacement. Legacy required staff members to research manuals by hand to determine client eligibility, and in theory, took more time to enter in information. If CBMS were working perfectly, it would create a single point of entry for multiple programs, thus speeding up the application process and improving accuracy. “The new system is supposed to determine eligibility,” Renick said. But that’s not happening. “I’m concerned about staff burnout,” Renick said of the county’s social service department’s 16 employees. “The state training was inadequate to navigate the system. We’re not sure why things are happening.”We used to be able to process a food stamps request in about 10 minutes,” she said. “Last week, a manager and a technician spent more than two hours trying to get one food stamp request through the new system.”Now what?Garfield is just one of many counties having problems with the system. On Sept. 20, Colorado Counties Inc. sent a letter to Gov. Bill Owens complaining about the new system’s inadequacies , which includes sending thousands of erroneous notices to people, including families of former clients who are deceased. And attorneys for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy have filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court to abandon CBMS and return operations to the old Legacy system, which was shut down Aug. 24. Colorado County officials met with Gov. Owens about the flawed system Monday morning and Owens promised the group he would set up a task force that will meet daily until all of CBMS’s problems are cleared up.Colorado county officials have been aware of the system’s flaws even before the system went operational earlier this month, and had asked Owens to wait to release it until the glitches had been worked out. But the governor went ahead and approved CBMS’s release earlier this month. Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said he and his fellow commissioners will closely watch what’s decided statewide as Renick’s staff struggles to convert thousands of cases into the new system, even though CBMS has not proved to be either reliable or accurate. “The state’s help desk is inundated with reports of problems coming in all over Colorado,” Renick said. Renick also said that social services will work with emergency organizations such as LIFT-UP if the department is not able to get requests for assistance through. Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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