Magazine article Business Perspectives

Bureau Highlights

Magazine article Business Perspectives

Bureau Highlights

Article excerpt

When people think of customer service, they don't usually think of welfare programs. Yet, Tennessee's welfare reform program, Families First, provides customer service to participants leaving the program.

In September 1996, the Families First program started in Tennessee under a federal waiver. One of the cornerstone ideas of the program was that those customers who were required to participate and who functioned above a 9th grade level would only have 18 months at a time to receive cash benefits (which is similiar to the time limits used in the federal welfare program and programs operating in other waiver states). The Tennessee Justice Center expressed concern to the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) administration in early 1998 that many of the customers facing impending closure may not have received adequate services during their time on assistance and should not be penalized by case closure.

Understanding this concern, before closure could take effect TDHS agreed to set up an independent review process to review not only cases closed for reaching the 18-month limit, but, in effect, all cases that were being closed. Contracting with Tennessee Board of Regents schools in the eight districts, TDHS created independent Customer Service Review (CSR) units housed in TDHS offices, but operating outside DHS supervision.

With 18 reviewers and two supervisors, the Shelby County CSR unit is the largest in the state and is housed at the Department of Human Services office on Jackson Avenue. Since its creation in March 1998, the CSR unit in Shelby County (the largest TDHS district in the State) has reviewed more than 12,000 cases which were proposed for closure by TDHS for reasons ranging from failing to come in for an appointment, children moving out of the home, not cooperating with child support collection, meeting the 18-month time limit for receiving benefits, or even customers themselves requesting for one reason or another that their case be closed. …

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