Connecticut has come a long way since its fraud scandal over the special emergency aid program that followed Hurricane Irene. The state has been working to address the problems that are limiting the food stamp program as well as creating a high error rate, slow response time and older computer system. In truth, the food stamp program has been unable to keep up with the rest of the nation in addressing its hunger problems because of its poor performance. The state has tried new policies to fix the issue, but problems still keep resurfacing.
Connecticut is ranked last in all 50 states for processing applications for the federal program on time. In 2006, the state was processing 81 percent of applications in the right amount of time. However, that number has dropped to only 59 percent in 2010. Now, the current Connecticut Department of Social Services is saying that the numbers are getting even worse for the state.
While the federal government warned the state that it could face financial sanctions, if it doesn’t improve the error rates, that are leading to either too little or too much aid for recipients, then limitations will have to be placed. As of right now, recipients may simply be denied for aid without proper cause. The SNAP food stamp program is a $650 million-a-year program in Connecticut. Without that aid, thousands of families wouldn’t be able to eat.
So, last March Governor Dannel P. Malloy appointed DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby to the task of cleaning up the state’s food stamp woes. Bremby was appointed mostly because of his efforts to modernize government with the former cabinet secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Bremby spent all of 2011 examining Connecticut’s challenges for the food stamp agency. He saw there was a problem with the computerized eligibility system that dates back to 1988. In addition, the organization relies on recipients having to physically visit fewer regional welfare offices to apply for benefits and submit paperwork that constantly gets lost.
“I like to say we’re in the second decade of the 21st century, using 20th-century and 40-year-old work processes,” Bremby stated to the Associated Press in an interview this week at DSS headquarters, housed in a former Hartford office building. “It’s not a pleasant system to work in. Our staff is incredibly frustrated because they know that they’re limited by what they can do.”
However, there is a growing demand for more benefits as the unemployment rates increase. The demand for monthly federal food benefits continues to rise. Meanwhile, the number of state DSS eligibility workers charged with processing the application has dropped to only 500. That’s a lot of processing for very little staff.
Bremby is devoted to fixing the problem and has devised a systematic approach to the problems facing DSS. He hopes that Connecticut will eventually show improvement. His main challenges will be fixing the online system and taking away all of the paper processing that continues to be so troublesome for Connecticut agencies.