Computers lag behind welfare plan (data system suggish...) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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Computers lag behind welfare plan

Data system sluggish for helping place clients who exhaust benefits

BY JAMES C. BENTON Beacon Journal Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS: A new computer network designed to help Ohioans move from welfare to work moves slowly -- so slowly that the state is putting off wide use of the system while its creators redesign it.

The Integrated Client Management System is supposed to help welfare workers statewide find data on welfare recipients held by different agencies.

From that, caseworkers who deal with Ohio Works First clients can divert them to other types of assistance, such as nonprofit agencies that help with job training or transportation.

The system, being designed by a Virginia company under contract with the Ohio Department of Human Services, was to have been activated statewide this month, but instead it's being phased in through early next year in 12 Ohio counties. It won't be online until next spring, officials say.

Even so, some county officials don't expect the system to be online until next September -- less than a month before as many as 15,400 Ohioans face the end of their three-year limit on welfare benefits.

Phil Harrell, the project's manager for Human Services, said the department rolled out the first phase last month in Hamilton County. It's expected to start in Cuyahoga County on Sept. 27 and in Belmont County on Oct. 25.

The department originally intended to set up a system on caseworkers' individual computers. This summer, though, the department decided to move to a faster system that could handle more work.

``It might be better to look at a Web-browser based system,'' Harrell said.

In Hamilton County, 30 employees are using the system as a pilot project. But Kevin Holt, the project manager at the county's Department of Human Services, said the system moved too slowly, choked by information going between computer workstations and the system.

``It needs to be very fast, or our workers won't be able to work as fast as they need to improve customer service,'' Holt said.

Holt said the Web-browser system wouldn't be ready until next September, a year after the proposed start date.

``The one lesson that I personally take away from this experience is, I'll believe it when I see it.''

Still, Holt said the system, which will be extended to 50 more Hamilton County caseworkers by year's end, would be useful because as welfare rolls shrink, the people who remain have multiple needs that must be addressed.

Art Bumpus, manager of information services for Cuyahoga Health and Nutrition and Cuyahoga Work and Training -- two programs involved in Ohio Works First in Cuyahoga County -- said the system ``is being essentially rebuilt,'' but it doesn't surprise him.

``Good tools to work in an automated environment are lacking,'' he said. ``It's like trying to build an ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.''

The delay may cause concern in Cuyahoga County, which contains nearly half of Ohio's 15,479 adult welfare recipients facing a cutoff of their benefits on Oct. 1, 2000, when the three-year time limit runs out. By comparison, Summit County contains 8.5 percent of the state's welfare recipients facing that cutoff.

But Harrell and Human Services spokesman Jon Allen said the slowdowns in the system would not cause problems for people trying to move from welfare to work -- especially those facing a cutoff.

``We're a pilot in Hamilton County, so we're not surprised that it's a little bit slow,'' Harrell said. ``Part of the reason we do pilots is to see if there are any issues out there.''

Human Services hired American Management Systems, which is designing the system and other services under a $32.8 million contract.

The test project in Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties -- which volunteered -- has had some fitful starts. Bumpus said caseworkers found it hard to conduct transactions and queries because the system lacked file servers between the caseworkers' workstations and the computer mainframes running the system.

``The issue was how much information could be stored at the workstation level as opposed to the mainframe system,'' Bumpus said. ``The system hadn't been built with the file servers in mind, and now it will be.''

Harrell said the system's redesign ``was always part of the plan'' for ODHS and that it was happening now because the Internet technology ``is already there.''

-- Homer Beanfang (, September 24, 1999



I wonder just how many "new" systems are being installed, prior to the inflexible Y2K deadline, because it was a good budgeting justification for swapping out the old 'puter junkers? Then I wonder... how many of those new installations will be functional... in time? Especially when the old stuff won't work either. Quite the dilemma, eh?

Got pencils and carbon paper?

``The one lesson that I personally take away from this experience is, I'll believe it when I see it.''


First live real-time "global test" scheduled: 01/01/2000.


-- Diane J. Squire (, September 24, 1999.

metrics bite!

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, September 24, 1999.

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