Indiana’s welfare system sees improvement, new Secretary says

Less than a month after being promoted to head the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, Secretary Michael Gargano told lawmakers and reports last week that the new hybrid welfare system was “absolutely” succeeding. Mr. Gargano testified in front of the State Budget Committee to raise funding for local welfare offices, who have seen a 30 percent increase in welfare applicants.

In 2006, IBM and subcontractor ACS were awarded a ten-year, $1.34 billion contract to modernize the way Hoosiers applied and received welfare benefits. But due to a series of early complications and widely publicized backlogs, IBM was removed from its duties in October 2009 at the behest of the Governor and a growing outcry from politicians in Indianapolis.

With IBM out of the picture, ACS assumed lead role in a new strategy that was to see a “hybrid” welfare system. This hybrid system has used much of the technology originally envisioned under the terms of the IBM contract, but it will use FSSA employees instead of outsourcing or automating the human elements of the eligibility process.

This move has added 433 caseworkers to the state and vendor payrolls, Gargano told the budget committee, which accounts for a 19 percent increase. Secretary Gargano is asking for a 58 percent increase in FSSA’s budget next year and a 66 percent increase over current funding in 2012. This would nearly double the agency’s current budget from $56.5 million to $93.8 million.

The agencies funds had been slashed because of the bad economy, so these budget requests seem higher than normal, a report from the Associated Press said. “A lot of it is also driven by the increased number of applications,” Gargano told the AP.

As for the hybrid computer / caseworker welfare system, it has been expanded to 27 counties across the state and Gargano said welfare application backlogs have fallen in every region of the state. Additionally, Indiana’s food stamp error rate fell to 2.5 percent in May, down from 14.5 percent a year earlier.