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Welfare Numbers Dropping, But Enrollment Problems Exist

Last updated on Wednesday, October 22, 2008

(UNDATED) - Nearly a year after the state began privatizing the task of determining welfare eligibility, the first counties to make the switch are still seeing lower enrollment than the rest of the state.

The 12 counties which led the rollout of phone and internet applications had two-percent fewer people on food stamps in August than the year before, while the rest of the state went up 11-percent.

Welfare clients are down statewide, but more sharply in the first counties to go private, with the rolls down 37-percent, compared to a five-percent decline in the rest of the state.

An IBM-led consortium began handling eligibility determinations in the 12 counties in November.

Former Vigo County Welfare Director Glenn Cardwell charges the elderly and disabled aren't getting the help they need in applying. He contends senior citizens may not be comfortable with the internet, and may not be able to hear adequately over the phone.

The Family and Social Services Administration says people who don't like the net can still visit county offices. Spokeswoman Lauren Auld notes 47 more counties have joined the private system since March, which means they're part of the statewide numbers.

Auld also points out the state's 11 largest counties were not part of the initial rollout, which skews the numbers. Marion County still hasn't joined the IBM hookup. And Auld says the technology modernization which accompanied the IBM contract made it possible for FSSA to supply rapid-response food-stamp assistance this summer in counties battered by tornadoes and floods.

Cardwell's brother John Chairs is with the Indiana Home Care Task Force, which has been arguing against the privatization since it was first announced and is now pushing the state to exercise an escape clause in the contract.

Glenn Cardwell contends trained state caseworkers are more up to speed on changes in welfare law, and better qualified to handle the interpersonal aspect of the job.

Task force member organizations include United Senior Action, the Organized Labor-Affiliated Indiana Alliance of Retired Americans, and Madison County Triad.

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