DSS: Scanning backlog shrinking, but not gone yet

The backlog of paperwork that needs to be entered into the state Department of Social Services’ computer system is shrinking — but hasn’t been fully eliminated, an agency spokesman said Friday.

Social Services Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby said last week that the backlog was expected to be cleared by the end of this week. DSS spokesman David Dearborn said the state contractor handling the work was trying to finish the scanning by Saturday and would most likely need time Monday to finish data entry and transmit the information to the DSS computer system.

As part of a modernization effort aimed at improving how applications and other forms are handled, DSS contracted with Manchester-based Scan-Optics to scan all documents the department gets. Those documents then become available electronically through the department’s computer system, allowing DSS workers anywhere in the state to access them to process clients’ applications or renewal forms, or answer clients’ questions.

DSS’ contract with Scan-Optics calls for the documents to be scanned and sorted within 24 hours of being received, as long as the volume is lower than 3 million pages per month.

But the operation hasn’t met the 24-hour target, resulting in frustration among clients and advocates for people served by DSS programs. Some have said that the paperwork delays have meant that people have been wrongly cut off from food stamps or cash assistance and unable to get their benefits restored.

Because of the backlog, DSS extended benefits for more than 15,500 households that were at risk of losing them this month, to ensure that people weren’t cut off from assistance while their renewal forms were stuck in the backlog.

Scan-Optics has added staff to address the backlog, as well as the daily flow of new applications and other documents into the scanning center, Dearborn said.

He added that the company is expected to have “a full staff complement” working Saturday and will update the department on its programs at the beginning of next week.

Scan-Optics was on track to finish the work earlier, Dearborn said, but the schedule was affected when the fax was unintentionally “re-engaged” at one point this week, meaning documents came in that way. DSS had previously stopped allowing people to submit documents by fax — with limited exceptions — in an effort to address the volume of paperwork and relieve the pressure on Scan-Optics.

Clients have also expressed frustration about the time it takes to reach a worker through the department’s new centralized phone system. Some say it routinely takes an hour or more to get through.

Bremby said last week that call volumes and wait times will go down after the scanning situation is improved because people won’t have to call repeatedly to see if their paperwork arrived, and DSS workers will be able to access documents promptly. Others have said the department needs more workers to handle applications and answer phones, something Bremby disputes.

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