Food Stamps, new computer system drive up Welfare budget

Lawmakers were told Wednesday the welfare division needs a huge increase in staffing to manage a growing food stamp and Medicaid caseload caused in part by the Affordable Care Act.On top of that, they were asked to authorize a study that will begin the process of replacing the Child Support Enforcement program’s computer system.Steve Fisher, deputy administrator of Welfare and Support Services, presented a joint legislative committee studying the division budget charts projecting an increase of 62,679 in food stamps recipients and more than 170,000 Medicaid recipients by the end of the coming two year budget cycle.Much of that increase, he said, is because of the increased number of people eligible for the programs under the Affordable Care Act along with the mandate for people to purchase health insurance. That mandate, he said, will send a lot of people currently eligible but not receiving those benefits to find out they are eligible and apply. “We’re projecting there are clients out there who are going to be shopping for insurance,” he said. “That’s why we see caseload growth in (the food stamps program) — because of the eligible but not served.”As a result, he said the division will have to add a total of 437 employees to the 1,200 member Field Services staff that determines eligibility and processes those people seeking benefits.He said those employees will reduce the caseload of Field Services employees from 631 to 572.“So it is reducing the actual cases on our case workers a bit,” he said.The good news for the state, however, is that much of the cost — nearly all in food stamps and two-thirds in Medicaid — will be paid by the federal government.Lawmakers were also asked to approve a $1 million study beginning the process of replacing the Child Support Enforcement system. The purpose of that federally mandated system is to make sure parents live up to the responsibility of supporting their children by finding non-custodial parents who owe child support and making them pay.Program Information Technology Manager David Stewart said the estimate to modernize the existing system was 900,000 work hours and $96 million.“It was decided that’s just not a feasible option for a 30-year-old program that’s collapsing of its own weight at this time,” he said.He said the feasibility study will help determine what the best alternative is. He said five other states are currently going through that process with estimates that range from $75 million to $250 million in Florida.“We’re looking some place around $100 million,” he said adding that two thirds of that cost would be paid by the federal government.The old system was originally created with a budget of just over $12 million nearly 30 years ago. Contract modifications and expansions over a period of years as it was developed drove that cost to well over $150 million.The joint Assembly Ways and Means-Senate Finance committee took no action on the budgets.


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