Computer system expected to improve handling of welfare

October 27, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

A new computer system should assist, not delay, benefits such as child support and welfare payments handled by the Carroll County Department of Social Services, said the state's new human services secretary.

Then he crossed his fingers.

"We expect nothing to go wrong in Carroll County," said Luther W. Starnes, Maryland secretary of human resources. His department oversees local departments of social services.

"Keep your fingers crossed," said David Ensor, assistant director of the Carroll office, which is making the switch this week.

Eighteen other counties have made the change. Howard will go on line this week with Carroll, and Montgomery on Dec. 3, said Walinda West, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources. Baltimore will begin the new system by September 1995, she said.

"In each round of, as we call them, 'rollouts,' we learn from other jurisdictions what we need to do and what we need to do better," Ms. West said. "We're very pleased with the system's capabilities."

Several government and social service agency representatives met with Mr. Starnes yesterday at the Carroll DSS offices.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll Republican, asked whether the new computer system would delay child support payments that some parents make through the department.

The department enforces child support orders for any residents who ask, regardless of whether they receive welfare, and acts as a medium between parents ordered to pay support and custodial parents.

"We're trying to stay on top of [child support payments]," said Mr. Starnes, who took over the agency Aug. 29 after Carolyn Colvin left for a federal appointment in the Social Security Administration.

He said the new computer system could speed the process because it can track automatically when parents are behind on payments.

"It can generate arrears notices, supply information to the lottery, to the state comptroller's office," he said. Parents who are behind on their payments may have their tax refunds, lottery winnings or wages garnished.

"Instead of a refund, they get a letter saying, 'Thank you for your child support payment,' " Mr. Starnes said.

M. Alexander Jones, director of the Carroll Department of Social Services, said the staff has been given training in the new system, called the Client Information System, since early September.

State workers have been in Carroll to help the local office, he said.

"It will help speed up the determination process," Mr. Jones said.

From the perspective of a person seeking help, the system should make things easier, he said.

"The client will sit down with the caseworker, the caseworker will punch in the information for a client, and determine whether the client is eligible or not," he said.

What once took days and possibly multiple visits can now take place within a few hours, Mr. Jones said. The computer will be able to tell the client about eligibility for a variety of services, rather than for one program at a time, he said.

"It will save a lot of time once we get the bugs worked out," Mr. Jones said.

He said there might be a four-day delay for some applications processed this week, but the staff has 30 days to determine eligibility and should meet the deadlines, so clients won't notice any delay.

"For emergency assistance, we have a way of helping them," he said.

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