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DSS Computer System Is Back Up

by | May 25, 2012 6:30am
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Health Care, Labor, Legal

Christine Stuart file photo

Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

The antiquated Department of Social Services computer database that is used to determined food stamp eligibility was restored Thursday after being down for two days.

But the situation remains tenuous. DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby cautioned that the underlying problems are massive and the system, which has been known as EMS since the 1980s, could break down again.

“Our hard-working IT staff were able to resolve the short-term issues this time, but the fact is that our eligibility management system is woefully outmoded and needs to be replaced,” Bremby said in a statement.

The problems with the system are widely known and this week’s issue was related to attempts to create more data space. Officials in the department said creating additional capacity is absolutely necessary to enable this outdated system to last until it can be replaced. 

“This reality is widely known, and the agency and our clients are fortunate to have support from the administration, legislature and partner agencies for a replacement system,” Bremby said.

The department is currently in the planning process to build a new eligibility system, which will dovetail with eligibility systems for other social service programs such as Medicaid. The planning process is still ongoing, but once it’s completed the department hopes to be reimbursed by the federal government for about 90 percent of the costs.

Malloy administration Budget Director Ben Barnes said the state is a taking an “innovative” approach to developing a unified eligibility system that will work initially for DSS and the health insurance exchange, but will ultimately provide eligibility tracking for other social service programs offered by other state agencies.

He said the goal is to establish an electronic “no wrong door approach” to social services. So the income and other eligibility guidelines provided to the state can be used in qualifying individuals for other programs the state offers.

Meanwhile, the state faces a class action lawsuit for its inability to process food stamps in a timely manner. The lawsuit filed by Greater Hartford Legal Aid in March
alleges that thousands of needy families have gone hungry because they don’t have prompt access to food stamps.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, James Briggs, ended up losing his job of many years in November 2011 when his car broke down and he was unable to afford a new one. Soon afterward, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and after he depleted his savings he applied for state assistance in February. When he applied he gave the state a copy of his birth certificate, drivers license, and a statement about his only income of $75 per week from the Soldiers Sailors and Marines’ Fund. The state requested more information, but he was unable to get through to them on the phone to provide it. He faxed over all the information he had in February. As of March 6, the filing date of the lawsuit, he still had not received a response.

In February 2011, DSS told lawmakers that between January 2010 and December 2011 that between 20 and 40 percent of food stamp applications had been pending for 30-days or longer. The agency’s ability to process the applications has gotten worse, rather than better.

According to the lawsuit, the agency’s timeliness rate was 83.01 percent in 2008, 79.11 percent in 2009, and 59.49 percent in 2010.

Lucy Potter, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said part of the problem is the agency’s phone bank system. She said that in order to receive food stamps an individual has to go for an interview, but if they miss the call from the agency it’s unlikely that they’ll even be able to leave a message for the worker because the voicemail system fills up so quickly. There’s never a chance to leave a message or schedule an appointment.

She said the state did approve the hiring of 60 people to process food stamps, but it’s too soon to tell if additional staff will help improve processing time. The employees also have been authorized for a certain amount of overtime.

Meanwhile, the class action lawsuit is in limbo. The state filed a motion to dismiss and attorneys for Greater Hartford Legal Aid have asked for a preliminary injunction. So now it’s just a matter of waiting for the judge to make a ruling on either of those motions.

“It’s not at all clear how it’s going to play,” Potter said Thursday. “But we think we have a pretty good case.”

A spokesman for the Department of Social Services said the state continued to take applications while the database was down and there were no problems created for those who already receive the benefits.

“Individuals and families already eligible for DSS programs as of May 18 remained active in the systems used by medical providers, pharmacies, vendors, and other service providers to check client eligibility,” David Dearborn, a DSS spokesman said. “The department took steps to communicate with providers, vendors, and pharmacies on how to continue to serve clients whose eligibility may not have been verifiable on May 22 and 23.”

Even during the computer system interruption, DSS continued to take new applications from the public, he added. 

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(4) Archived Comments

posted by: William Wallace | May 25, 2012  6:48am

More to this issue than Malloy and his minions will admit to. DSS is, and has been for the last 3 decades, the most poorly run State Agency - the unclassified appointees who run the Agency are plentiful and inept - and were not replaced or reduced in the Malloy/SEBAC debacle. This backdrop exists in a time when services and benefits to eligible recipients need to be prompt and accurate. The EMS dinosaur is only part of a much bigger problem in DSS.

posted by: state_employee | May 25, 2012  3:06pm

i wonder how much malloys personal photographer is being paid from tax dollars.  there is just never a picture that he isn’t in.  i for one am sick of seeing his ugly mug.

posted by: lkulmann | May 26, 2012  10:58am

Correct me if I’m wrong…please! Anyone? I see a trend here and its scaring me. It just seems that there is some sort of tug-of-war going on between the CT DSS and Governor Malloy or are we just getting a whole lot of lip service. I truly believe Governor Malloy is trying to help CT residents in many ways. There seems to a problem getting CT DSS to cooperate. There is a catastrophic event every time people are encouraged to access public services. The Medicaid. The SNAP. The Unemployment. What is really happening here? The ‘antiquated computer system’ excuse is getting lame. All the retirees. No one in the world can fix the computer. Not enough staff. No one is trained. The phone system is full and on and on and on… Why is CT DSS hoarding services??? Have they become their own entity where they just serve themselves? What about the rest of us? So…if they are their own entity, they should have their own State bird that represents itself. If I could choose the CT DSS State bird, I would pick the Ostrich. Hmmm… The CT DSS State animal would be the Sloth… The CT CT DSS flower would be Cannabis Sativa, of course, the fish….something stinky that doesn’t pass the smell test…

posted by: ... | May 26, 2012  1:48pm


state_employee: That’s a photo from CTNJ itself (from the archives). So no tax dollars and no
‘personal photographer’. It might help to read the subtitle’s of images.

Also, he’s the governor of this state. If you’re committed to reading about state politics, guess what: he’s gonna be in a lot of photos. If you’re ‘sick’ of seeing pictures of people you don’t like, don’t look at them. Or don’t go to sites that have them. It’s not that difficult if you really care.