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Human services in the Age of Austerity

Clients and welfare workers from the state’s human services system will discuss attacks on public services coming under the guise of austerity — including a privatization contract that an artbitrator recently ordered shut down — at a public meeting Monday.

The Alliance for Community Services is sponsoring the meeting on health care and human services at 6:30 p.m, Monday, July 8, at Teamster City, 300 S. Ashland.

Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability will discuss the state’s fiscal crisis.

“The reality is, we’re not broke,” said Fran Tobin of Northside Action For Justice, one of the initiators of the alliance.  “There’s lots of wealth in the state, but our regressive revenue system is failing to tap into it.”

Human service clients and welfare workers will tell stories of difficulties caused by a chronically understaffed system, said Steve Edwards, a retired union activist.

One source of problems is a new DHS pilot program — poised for expansion — that shifts from case-based to task-based organization of office work.  Under the program, caseworkers have been shifted to “teams” devoted to specific tasks.

“You have former caseworkers — who have college degrees in specific fields and a year of additional training — spending all day opening mail,” he said.  Everyone’s work goes into a single pile, with no one responsible for the ultimate disposition of particular cases.  It means clients no longer have a caseworker who they can call to address problems.

“They’ve blown up accountability,” Edwards said.  “It looks to me like sabotage.”

“Under the rhetoric of increasing efficiency, they’re clearly making things worse,” Tobin said.  “It’s insane.”

AFSCME Council 31, which represents state human service workers, has filed a grievance charging DHS with eroding job titles, said Edwards, a former AFSCME local president.

AFCME recently won an arbitration charging that a contract with a private firm to review Medicaid recipients’ eligibility violated contract language on contracting out.  An arbitrator ordered the state to cancel its contract with the consulting firm Maximus at the end of the year, according to the union.

Edwards estimated that for the cost of the $75 million contract, the state could have hired 1,500 additional caseworkers, increasing the workforce by something like 50 percent.

He said some caseworkers currently have caseloads of more than 2,000 individuals or families — far above the recommended caseload of 400 to 500.

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Category: health, human services, Medicaid/Medicare, state budget

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