State workers: Keep health and human services accessible

State employees in Missouri and Texas are building movements to protect health and human services and keep them accessible.

In Missouri, the Missouri State Workers Union CWA 6355 (MSWU) is building a Turn the Tide movement that includes Family Support Division union members and the people they serve to protect access to health and human services in the state.

In Texas, members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA 6186 have started a petition drive calling for more staffing at health and human service eligibility offices to keep pace with increased caseload. The petition also calls for a pay raise that would help retain qualified staff, the key to ensuring that applications for services are processed quickly and accurately.

Missouri has developed a plan for reorganizing the application process for health and human services such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The plan, whose implementation began in July, will take years to implement fully, but the impact on people who depend on these services is already being felt.

The St Louis Post Dispatch reports that since implementation began in July, the state’s food stamp enrollment has dropped by 3.3 percent, one of the largest drops in food stamp enrollment in the US.

The Post Dispatch also reports that one of the main reasons for the drop in enrollment is the increase in the number of denials, many of which are caused by a problem with the reorganization plan.

The reorganization plan will eventually do away with local Family Support Division (FSD) offices where people meet face to face with a knowledgeable caseworker who can assist the applicant with the complicated application. At the face to face meeting, the worker can explain the application process and tell the applicant what documents are needed to complete the process.

Where the reorganization plan has been implemented, applicants are left on their own to complete the application. After completing the application, the applicant submits it to a centralized processing center and is told to wait for a follow up call.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Kyonna Belton, a food stamp applicant to the Post Dispatch . “They say to fill out your piece of paper and leave and they’ll call you. Then you get this (notice), saying you missed something you don’t know about.”

At a community meeting in Overland, Missouri, Holly Roe, an FSD caseworker described the impact that the reorganization is having on her clients.

“What we’re seeing is an atrocity, she said as reported by the Post Dispatch. “It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

Roe said that the reorganization has been especially hard on disabled people and the elderly.

The community meeting, which was organized by Jobs with Justice and the Missouri State Workers Union, was attended by FSD employees, health and human service recipients, and social welfare activists.

MSWU Turn the Tide movement had some successes. By mobilizing workers and the people they serve, the union has gotten FSD to start holding public hearings on the reorganization plan and to open discussions with union representatives on the plan.

Before, FSD had said that the reorganization plan was  a done deal and that there would be no discussions with workers and no chance for the public to give input.

FSD has also been forced to move back some of its more aggressive implementation deadlines.

In Texas, employees at the Health and Human Service Commission (HHSC) who process applications for health and human services have seen a surge in case work.

Last year, the state canceled a Children’s Health Insurance Program contract with Maximus and turned the work over to state employees.

By canceling the contract, the state saved $315 million but didn’t use any of that money to increase staffing to handle the increase in work.

Not only do HHSC workers have to process more case, but they have to correct errors on thousands of cases received from Maximus.

To make matters worse, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of cases that must be reviewed for Medicaid eligibility.

The result is a backlog of  114,000 cases–that’s 114,000 people whose access to vital health services has been delayed.

The petition drive is aimed at forcing HHSC leadership and the Legislature to fund more positions and to provide raises that keep highly qualified workers on the job.

TSEU organizers will have copies of the petition when they visit HHSC eligibility offices. The union is asking members to take copies of the petition and get fellow workers to sign it.

The petition drive will also be an opportunity for union members to talk to non-members about why they should join the union.

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