This is a photo of piles of paper stacked up at the state Department of Social Services.
Piles of paper at the Department of Social Services. Roderick L. Bremby / DSS

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget includes 103 new staff positions for the state Department of Social Services, which has faced litigation alleging that it doesn’t have enough workers to process Medicaid applications within the required time frame.

Budget director Benjamin Barnes told members of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee Friday that the new positions are related to the lawsuit.

“We’ve added them because we’re working with the plaintiffs in the litigation to address their appropriate concerns,” Barnes said.

The lawsuit alleges that DSS doesn’t have enough workers to process Medicaid applications within the time frame required by federal law, leaving thousands of state residents to wait months to get medical coverage and care.

Attorneys for DSS have argued that there’s no need to add staff because a new system for processing applications would speed up the process. But the new system, introduced last summer, has not run as smoothly as officials had hoped.

The case went to trial last May, but the two sides have more recently been negotiating a settlement.

According to budget documents, DSS has 1,846 staff positions this fiscal year, and the two-year budget adopted last year would provide for 1,844 employees next fiscal year. The plan Malloy released Thursday, which contains adjustments for the coming fiscal year budget, would fund 1,947 DSS staff positions.

DSS spokesman David Dearborn said the new positions would include workers handling eligibility, as well as staff to work on health services, child support and investigations. He noted that the department has been adding positions in the past year, in part to offset staffing losses from as far back as 2003.

Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with the New Haven Legal Assistance Association who represents the plaintiffs, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about a resolution to the talks with DSS.

“We are pleased to see that [Malloy’s budget office] recognizes the need for more hiring to address the delays in processing Medicaid applications, which is the reason for our class action lawsuit, and fully support their request for more staff to address those delays,” Toubman said.

He added that there are “substantial other delays throughout the DSS system,” including delays in processing applications for other benefits, processing renewals for all benefits that have led to people being improperly cut off from assistance, and “virtually an impenetrable call system.”

“Additional staff is needed to address all of these serious delay problems, not just Medicaid application processing delays,” he said.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

Leave a comment