January 27, 2011

Human Resources speeds up processing cash assistance claims, exceeds court order

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By Felicia Howard
Felicia@MarylandReporter.com

Officials of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources boasted to a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee Tuesday about exceeding the court-ordered number of quick turned-around claims for Marylanders on public assistance.

These programs aid families in need. The Temporary Cash Assistance program provides money, and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program provides subsidies for food.

The Baltimore City Circuit Court ordered the department to process at least 96% of applications within 30 days after a 2009 lawsuit claimed the department was not routinely processing applications for assistance programs within the federal and state required timeline of 30 days.

In the last 11 months, the department went from 83% compliance with the 30-day processing requirement to more than 96% compliance, said Interim Secretary Ted Dallas.

Dallas blames the slow processing on the shortage of employees in recent years and the increase of Marylanders who are in need of public assistance.

“In 2000 to 2005, Department of Human Resources experienced a 38% increase in the number of people enrolled in the federal food stamp program,” Dallas said. “From 2006 through today, the agency has seen a 116% increase in enrollment.”

Department employees reported that while making court-ordered progress in processing food stamps and temporary cash assistance, they saw success in other programs.

Deputy Secretary Stacy Rodgers focused on the Work Participation Program, which allows Marylanders to be placed in training and work-release programs to prepare them for life after public assistance.

“Our work participation rate is 41.7%.  People who have gotten a job through Human Resources have a 72% job-retention rate,” she said.

Dallas said improvements to various processes brought success to programs department wide.

“This change occurred because we dealt with the problem on four main fronts,” Dallas said. “We updated our policies and practices, we provided more training and support to our front-line staff, we adopted — and began using — new technology.”

The department implemented ways for applications to be completed online and accessed by department staff more efficiently.

Subcommittee members asked whether the department would be able to continue to process all the applications within a 30-day period. Rodgers thinks so.

He explained that although the litigation is ongoing, the Department of Human Resources has filed a motion with the court to dissolve the injunction. Staff is dedicated to upholding the momentum they’ve had in the past 11 months, she said.