DHS workers say reorganization could cost jobs, services
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

June 4, 2004 -- Texas Department of Human Services employees are lobbying local governments for support in slowing down a reorganization of the state agency, a move the workers say could adversely impact the state's needy citizens.

Hopkins County commissioners, meeting in a workshop session Friday morning, were asked to consider a resolution to the state asking that the Transition Legislative Oversight Committee take a closer look at the mandates of House Bill 2292, which would reorganize 12 state health and human service agencies and combine them into five new agencies.

Several employees in the Sulphur Springs DHS office used personal time to meet with commissioners to express their concerns over the potential far-reaching effects of the reorganization.

DHS employees across the state are seeking support from local governments in slowing down the reorganization process and getting more time for legislators to take another look at the effects the measure will have on those needy Texans who must depend on the service. They also say jobs would be lost if local offices are consolidated into four centers in the state, according to Joe McCoy, Texas Works Supervisor in Sulphur Springs.

"Basically, the privatization and reorganization that is taking place with the agency, going from 12 agencies down to four, is going to have a tremendous impact on needy Texans and people of Hopkins County," McCoy said.

The state employee said consolidating into the planned four call centers would mean a loss of personal contact with recipients of state aid, impede people needing urgent assistance, and possibly mean outsourcing of the call center functions out of the country.

The reorganization could also involve a serious impact on Hopkins County taxpayers.

As many as 26 state employees could be laid off, which would mean a loss of more than $500,000 in payroll annually. Along with the reduction in staff, the reduction of state services could place an additional burden on county taxpayers of more than $5 million.

"Basically, we serve 1,682 families with Medicaid, several families with food stamps and with temporary aid for needy families [TANF]," McCoy said.

A move to call centers in major metropolitan centers would mean that local people needing state assistance would be faced with the option of making phone calls into computerized facilities or corresponding by mail, which could mean delays for people with urgent needs.

Another option proffered by the state legislative oversight committee is the use of computers and the Internet to submit claims for assistance.

But McCoy said a family with these kinds of needs may not have a computer, and in many instances may not even be able to afford the cost of telephone service.

Without the one-on-one personal contact, McCoy said, many people may not be able to get help.

"We feel like, with this new system, there are going to be people that will fall through the cracks and not get the services they need," he said.

He also said the new system could open the door for fraudulent use of the state's welfare system.

County commissioners indicated they would offer their full support to the resolution and expressed both their concern and displeasure at the state's efforts to cut back on human services under the guise of saving money.

"It looks to me like we are heading to a disaster," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Burke Bullock.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Danny Evans said he was in favor of efficiency and cutting costs, but not at any price.

"We all need to cut costs as long as we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak," Evans said. "I think that's maybe what this bill is doing. I don't think we need to trash the entire system."

Don Patterson, who represents Precinct 3, said he shared the concerns of both Bullock and Evans and that he did not want to see services cut.

"I don't want to see services cut to our elderly and children," Patterson said. "Efficiency is one thing, but total cut out is something else."

Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker thanked the state workers for taking their personal time to voice their concerns.

"I think you see the need of these programs on a day-to-day basis and that you see that, while dollars are important, it's the human face that means a tremendous amount," she said. "I believe this bill can be slowed down."

Although formal action could not be taken Friday, members of the commissioners court indicated a resolution to the state and the Transition Legislative Oversight Committee would be well received and be approved in their next meeting.

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