The Department of Human Services will save about $1 million in data-processing costs this year, but the money probably won't do much to ease a budget crunch in programming.
All state transactions run through a central data-processing system, according to Dale Hatch, director of the Office of Planning and Budget. Human Services is "by far the biggest user of services," he said, because of transactions like monthly welfare grants.Over the past year, increased use of data-processing services has made it possible to cut the cost each department is charged. The 15-percent decrease will mean about $1 million to Human Services.
During an appropriations interim subcommittee meeting Wednesday, lawmakers expressed hope that the money would ease a fiscal crunch for the department's programs.
Department director Norman G. Angus said it won't make that much difference.
"A million dollars sounds like a lot," Angus said. "But when we get some money back, we're going to have to give the feds their share."
The department's two largest data-processing users are the Office of Recovery Services and Family Support, which manages the system that puts out welfare and other checks. Two-thirds of any saving to Recovery Services would return to the federal government and about three-fourths of a rebate to Family Support would go back to federal coffers.
Lawmakers have been asked by advocate groups, the Utah Association of County Governments and others to consider human-service needs during a special session. Advocates say that at least $9 million is needed to fund basic, crucial human-service programs, which they say were ignored when the Legislature met in January.
Data-processing savings aren't likely to affect that. Angus said that his department cannot transfer money saved in "one line item" to another one. So money saved processing for Recovery Services could not be used to cover an ever-growing caseload in public assistance. And since so much of the money will be returned to the federal government, the reduced costs - while helpful - won't meet major needs.
"The governor's office and all of the state agencies realize that a funding crisis is the top priority in Health and Human Services," said Shirley Weathers of Utah Issues. "We are pleased about that and hope that ultimately something will be done."
Angus said that the funding provided by lawmakers during the past session leaves most programs at status quo. "We'll keep operating, as long as we don't have an increase in numbers of people needing help. Respite care, support services, sexual abuse - they're about the same. But we still have a whole lot of people who are not getting those services."
If the number of people who qualify for Aid to Families with Dependent Children rises as expected, grant cuts could result. The department tried unsuccessfully to get grant increases during the session. Warding off cuts is his top priority, Angus said.
His department hopes to stave off grant cuts when the July 1 fiscal year begins. "But if the Legislature doesn't come up with something mid-year, I don't know how we'd make it through the whole year," he said.