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CLIENT CASE STUDY


United States—California counties: Consortium IV for human services agencies

An automated, integrated human services system that streamlines the management of multiple benefit programs for case workers and customers

Overview

Welfare caseworkers have a tough job. The programs they administer are varied and complex, involving vast amounts of information. Rules for eligibility change from year to year. Any kind of error—from misunderstanding a requirement to making a simple typo—can increase costs for the agency, require more time from caseworkers and delay benefits for customers.

Those customers also have a tough job. To get enrolled in a program, they might need to make repeated trips to the welfare office, answer questions, fill out forms, present documents and then redo parts of the process one or more times when information goes astray. If they’re applying to more than one program, they may have to go through the whole cycle again. And the agency may also be required to duplicate its efforts for processing applications for the various programs.

In 39 California counties, though, getting customers the right benefits is a much simpler process than it used to be. As members of a group called Consortium IV (C-IV), human services departments in those counties enjoy the use of a fully integrated welfare management system. The C-IV solution streamlines and automates many aspects of a caseworker’s job—and also makes life easier for beneficiaries.

Opportunity

The history of C-IV goes back to 1995, when the California legislature asked county welfare departments to form consortia to design new welfare management systems. Each system would automate the administration of 11 social service programs, such as:

  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs—California’s version of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF program).

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Medi-Ca (California’s version of Medicaid).

  • Foster Care.

  • The Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants.

  • Emergency assistance.

San Bernardino County, for instance, relied at the time on an old mainframe system to manage its welfare department. Caseworkers used printing calculators to compute eligibility and then copied the figures onto large paper forms, along with other information.

 “Then the form would go to data entry, where they would key the information in,” said June Hutchison, the C-IV regional project manager who represents San Bernardino County. “If it all went in fine, a couple of days later you’d get a printout back, and then the case was in the system.”

But if the form contained a mistake, the auditing department would send it back to the caseworker for correction. Auditors returned the form again and again as they found more errors, said Donna Gonzales, acting eligibility worker supervisor with the Ontario Transitional Assistance Department in San Bernardino County. “The customer might be waiting two or three weeks to get benefits,” she said.

County welfare departments used multiple software solutions to manage caseloads, calculate benefits, file reports to the state and handle other aspects of their work. Caseworkers who entered data into one system had to provide much of the same information to other systems as well, increasing the chance of data entry errors. Workers also spent hours hunting down the details of different programs in large paper binders.

Solution

With help from Accenture, the welfare departments streamlined their business practices, reducing 205 processes to 58 and creating common procedures for the four counties. Then, based on these improvements, they developed an integrated, Web-based solution to manage all of their functions, with a single database to house information for all four welfare departments.

“You collect the data one time, it’s housed one time, it’s maintained one time and it’s used to calculate across multiple programs,” said John Boule, the consortium’s C-IV project director. That makes it easier for caseworkers to manage customers’ data and easier for customers to get assistance.

The new system greatly decreased the time and effort required to process an application for benefits, said Donna Gonzales, acting eligibility worker supervisor with the Ontario Transitional Assistance Department in San Bernardino County. “As long as you have the information correctly input into the system, you can issue the benefits instantaneously.”

Because the system contains all the rules to calculate benefits for different programs, caseworkers no longer need to look up information in hard copy documents or make calculations by hand. Automation saves workers time and boosts accuracy, Ana Pagan, director of the Merced County Human Services Agency, said. And the C-IV solution helps the welfare departments provide better service. “For clients, the system is far more responsive,” she said. “It’s quicker, and it’s user-friendly.”

Results

From the outset, C-IV served the four counties so well that it caught the eye of welfare officials in another consortium, the Interim Statewide Automated Welfare System (ISAWS). In November 2004, those 35 counties voted unanimously to join the C-IV consortium and migrate from their own system to C-IV.

Before the new counties joined the consortium, C-IV supported 1 million customers and 6,800 end-users in 60 offices. The expansion would increase the size of the C-IV community to 2 million customers, 12,000 end-users and more than 200 offices. “That equates to about doubling the size of our production data center,” Boule said.

Accenture and the consortium brought the new counties onto the C-IV system in three waves, in November 2009, March 2010 and June 2010. “They did a fabulous job,” Pagan said. “We set out a project timeline, and those timelines were met.”

While expanding C-IV to accommodate 35 new counties required a significant technology effort, the work didn’t disrupt the work of employees who were already using the system. “There was almost no impact,” Pagan said. “In fact, with the expansion of the production data center, we’ve started to see better performance than we enjoyed prior to the migration of the 35 ISAWS counties.”