Changes are coming, DSS chief tells panel

The new technology system the Department of Social Services is installing will have web services, “edocuments” and “telephony” — an interactive voice response service through the phone.

DSS clients will be able to do online applications and prescreen themselves. In addition, the new system will do away with the need for one caseworker to handle each applicant from start to finish. Instead, callers can get the next available worker.

After years of planning — and years of complaints and a lawsuit prompted in part by delays in services — the department is replacing its outdated system with a $27.7 million ConneCT system, which will be rolled out in stages. It will be coordinated with the launch of the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange Oct. 1.

Full Medicaid service should begin early next year, and all other human services should be up and running by September 2015, DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby told the legislature’s Human Services Committee Tuesday.

“We recognize that we are under a time of great frustration, but we didn’t get here overnight and it takes some time to move ahead,” Bremby said.

In addition to the technological changes, the department has added 238 positions in the last calendar year and relied on overtime to help keep up with the application backlog, he said.

Some legislators asked whether the new system would also help detect fraud. Bremby said it would not, but it would provide a platform for perhaps renting programs to detect fraud.

DSS has been trying to handle its five million pieces of paperwork a month using a computer system so old that the technicians who understand how it works are starting to retire and obsolete phones with such small mailboxes that they are nearly always full.

In addition, 30 percent fewer staff members have been trying to handle the massive increase in applications for social service programs that occurred during the Great Recession.