Magazine article Policy & Practice

(Self) Service with a Smile

Magazine article Policy & Practice

(Self) Service with a Smile

Article excerpt

The recession has affected everyone. While citizens struggle to make ends meet, state governments struggle to support their programs and plug enormous budget gaps. At the same time, states are seeing dramatic increases in the number of citizens applying for aid. Florida's food stamp caseload, for example, has grown by more than half a million people in the past 20 months, while Alabama's increased by more than 65,000 people between November 2007 and November 2008.

To help those suffering the most from the recession, the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides for a 13.6 percent increase in food stamp benefits. It also provides $290 million to help states administer the food stamp program (recently renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), with which states will need to update their benefits delivery systems in order to distribute the enhanced benefits. Given the recent increase in food stamp benefits contained within the ARRA, state agencies, now more than ever, need innovative ways to ensure that citizens who need these benefits can access them quickly and effectively.

Some states are well on their way to managing both of these issues. States that have implemented self-service systems within the last several years are finding they are not only able to better handle rapidly increasing caseloads, but they are also better positioned to meet looming advanced benefit delivery needs.

Wisconsin ACCESS (www.access.wisconsin.gov)

Many self-service systems were implemented to handle the opposite problem--low enrollment. Jim Jones, deputy division administrator for the Division of Health Care Access and Accountability in Wisconsin's Department of Health Services, said his state originally looked to move its Food Stamp Program online because enrollment was dwindling.

In 2002, Wisconsin applied for and received a grant from the Food and Nutrition Service and set out to build a web-based tool for citizens to apply for benefits, check existing benefits status and determine potential eligibility. Wisconsin hired Deloitte Consulting LLP to help them design and implement ACCESS. Today, Wisconsin residents use ACCESS to check eligibility and apply for programs, including Medicaid, BadgerCare Plus, FoodShare Wisconsin and other programs. The state now receives about one-third of its applications online.

New York myBenefits (www.mybenefits.ny.gov)

New York recently took notice of Wisconsin's success and set out to develop a self-service portal of its own. Called myBenefits, the new portal offers a pre-screening tool that brings together all the programs available to low-income New Yorkers in one place.

But since myBenefits, which includes a facilitated Food Stamp e-application, launched last summer, New York has seen an explosion in Food Stamp applications--many of which represent a population new to low-income family programs. "Food Stamp applications are up by 50 percent," said Russell Sykes, deputy commissioner for the Center for Employment and Economic Supports in the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Sykes said they've pre-screened 120,000 people since the system went live in June 2008, with an abandonment rate of only about 7 percent.

In June 2009, OTDA will pilot a public Internet version for the Food Stamp e-application starting in the facilitated enrollment districts and going statewide by the end of 2009. …

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