Ongoing revelations about the failures of the Department of Transitional Assistance to track recipient eligibility have provided a glimpse into a beleaguered, underfunded state agency (“Welfare audit finds abuses,” Page A1, May 29). While the food stamp caseload has doubled since mid-2007, the department never received administrative funds to increase staffing or get better IT tools to manage the food stamp and cash caseloads. The department’s food stamp workers have been juggling nearly 1,000 cases each with an outdated computer eligibility system, inadequate phone systems, and misplaced documents due to lack of electronic document imaging.
Is it any surprise case records appear incomplete or there are delays in responding to data matches? What’s missing from the recent state audit and earlier investigations is meaningful tracking of the barriers welfare clients face trying to reach their case workers to report a change in family size, the loss of a job, or a change of address. Also missing is acknowledgment of the error-prone nature of data matches (as evidenced by duplicate names in the auditor’s calculation of deceased recipients), underscoring the need for sufficient staffing to confirm external data and avoid tagging eligible recipients with falsehoods. Efforts by case workers and anti-hunger advocates to secure funding for more front-line staff and IT improvements have gone unheeded. We need to refrain from knee-jerk reactions to reports that drum up our worst fears about poor families and the agencies that seek to help them. It’s time to invest in an infrastructure that gives all residents confidence in the safety net.