Monday, August 08, 2005

Farewell to Welfare

Note: The comments expressed on this blog, are the views of a private citizen, and do not represent the views of any state agency.

After working for 13 years for what was until recently the Texas Department of Human Services (in the Food Stamps, Medicaid and TANF programs), I am transferring to the Office of the Attorney General, Child Support division later this month. I am doing this for two reasons:

1). The ongoing down-sizing of permanent (and well trained) staff, without any decrease in workload, has made things increasingly unmanagable.

2). We have had to deal with long hiring freezes in the past, as well as high stress levels; but unlike the past, this time around, the only thing we have to look forward to is busting our chops for the next year, and then eventually getting a position at reduced pay… if we get one at all.

Given those two realities, I decided it was best to create my own options, and find a position in another agency entirely.

This wouldn’t bother me so much if this was happening because the state had decided to cut welfare programs, and so fewer staff were needed to do the work. It also would not bother me so much if I thought that the new system would work, and save the state money. However, I am firmly convinced that this new system will be a boondoggle of historical proportions when all is said and done. I am also convinced that the day will come that the state will have to rebuild the agency that they are now dismantling… but at a huge cost, because they will have lost all the infrastructure that they had both in terms of facilities and equipment, and in terms of experienced staff who knew how to get the work done. This is bad business for the state, and a shameful way to treat staff that have maintained one of the most cost efficient state welfare agencies in the United States.

Up until now, I suppose some might have thought my complaints were due only to selfish concerns, but now that I will now longer have a personal financial interest in the matter, I hope those who think so will reconsider what I have been saying.

I will continue to keep an eye on how things develop, though in the future, from the outside looking in.

People who have never had to work with these programs really have no idea of what it takes to make them work. I think, because the people we deal with are generally poor and less educated, the assumption is that those who work with them must be as well. Also, because we have long been the red headed step child of state government, and have thus been chronically underfunded and understaffed, that the fact that our offices did not run like clock work was due to our incompetence, rather than due to the reality into which we had been placed. Recently the Fort Worth Star Telegram had an editorial praising the new system that is being implemented as a model of how government should work, and one can certainly detect such attitudes in that article. They of course assume that the state really will save money, and that services really will be more accessible to those who need those benefits. It is good to see recently that the Federal Government is finally expressing some of the same concerns that I have been blogging about, and has serious doubts about both of these assumptions… which the Fort Worth Star Telegram accepted as established facts. The Federal Government is unconvinced that the new software will actually function as promised, or that the state will actually save money, and is threatening to withhold funding. Unfortunately, I doubt that the politicians will allow these concerns to stop Accenture from getting its hands on that billion dollars the state has promised them, but it is nice to see that at least someone is beginning to take these issues seriously who is in a position to be heard. (If you have Adobe Acrobat, you can click here to read the actual letter from FNS to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission).

The worst thing of all for me personally is that I will be leaving the people I have worked so closely with for the past 13 years, who have become like extended family, and that those who are not fortunate enough to find work elsewhere, will have to remain in an increasingly difficult mess that was entirely avoidable, but seems inevitable now.

I will miss these people very much, but will keep them in my thoughts and prayers.