DSS launches new online service

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced in a news release Monday that the state Department of Social Services has launched a new user-friendly online service as a first step to modernize its fragile, outdated system.

The service, at www.connect.ct.gov, allows clients to check on the status of their benefits and the public to check on whether they qualify for services, ranging from food stamps and Medicaid and to Husky health insurance.

“This is going to be a great step forward for not only clients in terms of convenience and access but for staff,” DSS spokesman David Dearborn said.

Critics say the upgrade is encouraging, but the department, which has been plagued by delays, backlogs and understaffing, is not out of the woods yet.

“It’s not quite time for Hosannas,” said Lucy Potter, staff attorney for Greater Hartford Legal Aid, which has filed a lawsuit against DSS for not processing food stamps fast enough.

“It is good that this “MyAccount” thing is up, but there are a lot of other pieces that have to work right before they are actually processing cases on time,” Potter said.

Potter said delays continue, with a third of all food stamp benefits arriving late.

Sheldon Taubman, staff attorney for New Haven Legal Aid, which has also filed suit against DSS for delays in Medicaid, said the upgrade still doesn’t address the department’s staffing shortage.

The department did hire 238 employees relatively recently, but Taubman says that is still inadequate, and will get worse when about 100,000 more Medicaid applications come in this fall when the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

The improvements are the first step in upgrading the department’s antiquated, 1980s-era computer system with a new $27.7 million technology system that will include an interactive voice response phone system, an online application process and other features.

“We are literally taking an agency from obsolescence in terms of overwhelmed phones and laborious paper processing into the modern age of business systems,” Malloy said in a press release. “The online services are just the start.”