The state Department of Social Services announced Thursday that it would extend medical and food benefits for about 15,500 poor households at risk of losing them Sept. 1.
The move is intended to prevent people from losing Medicaid or food stamps as the department deals with problems related to a major change in its handling of applications and renewal forms. It affects people whose deadlines for renewing benefits is Sept. 1, some of whom got notices this month warning that they could lose benefits.
The problems stem from a change in how DSS handles documents as part of a major “modernization” effort. Forms and other material sent to DSS now go to a state contractor, which scans them into the department’s computer system.
The contractor, Manchester-based Scan-Optics, was supposed to get documents into the DSS computer system within 24 hours. But DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby said the volume of paperwork had led to a backlog in scanning, delaying DSS workers’ ability to access documents.
The benefits will be extended by at least one month. It’s temporary, so people will still need to submit their renewal forms. But the move is aimed at ensuring that people don’t lose benefits because their forms are stuck in the backlog or haven’t been routed properly in the system.
“While we direct measures to upgrade capacity with our scanning contractor, we also need to make sure that our clients are not harmed by the volume affecting system capacity,” Bremby said in a statement.
The “protective extension of benefits” announced Thursday affects about 2,500 households covered by the HUSKY program, which includes Medicaid, and 13,000 households in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
“Essentially, this means that the approximately 15,500 DSS client households receiving service cutoff warning notices in August will not lose Medicaid/HUSKY Health or SNAP benefits in September, as the notices had indicated,” Bremby said.
The new system, which also includes a single, statewide phone system for people to call to reach a worker, has drawn criticism from many advocates and DSS clients, who have said the phone wait times are too long, and that workers are still not getting the documents they send in.
Bremby said access to the department has been improving, but said there are “perhaps inevitable growing pains of a major business process transformation.” He said Scan-Optics has quadrupled its staff and is expected to have cleared the backlog by the end of next week.
Bremby said that to help relieve pressure on the system, people can:
- Open an online benefit account at www.connect.ct.gov, which allows people to get information about their benefits at all hours;
- Call the DSS client information line and benefits center at 1-855-6-CONNECT to “self-serve” using automated prompts;
- Avoid peak call times for the DSS phone system, which include Mondays and the end of business days;
- Use mail, rather than fax, when sending documents to DSS. The address is: DSS ConneCT Scanning Center, PO Box 1320, Manchester, CT 06045-1320.