Major increases in welfare client caseloads, changes in a computer system, low caseworker morale and many other problems are causing a breakdown in Utah's public-assistance programs.
That appeared to be the consensus of several state Social Service officials and representatives of several private agencies meeting Monday in Utah Department of Social Services offices in Salt Lake City.But despite their differences, the group appeared to be committed to solving the problems, which according to information presented is evidently centered in several welfare district offices in the Salt Lake area.
With a 30 percent increase in welfare caseloads in Salt Lake County alone in the past three years, the system is experiencing greater demands than it can handle, said Lynn Samsel, director of the Salt Lake Central District Community Operations office.
The caseload has continually risen, but worker numbers have not increased despite the number of people applying for and receiving assistance, Samsel said.
Compounding that difficulty are problems connected with the state's efforts to change to a new computerized program aimed at better determining eligibility and other factors in public welfare.
Conversion from the present record-keeping system to the new program, known as Public Assistance Case Management Information System, is apparently causing many problems.
Joe Duke-Rosati, advocacy coordinator, Salt Lake Community Action Program, said he has been told by some workers in offices where the conversion has taken place that they have problems even gaining access to the new system.
Community Operations district offices are the service delivery arm of Social Services. But Salt Lake Community Action, Crossroads Urban Center, Utahns Against Hunger and other agencies represented at the meeting say welfare clients are experiencing many problems connected with receiving assistance.
Duke-Rosati said the problems include having to wait 30 to 45 days for food stamps to be issued and 45 days for financial assistance.
He and others in the meeting said documents supplied by clients and others are frequently lost or misplaced and that welfare cases are being closed in violation of state and federal regulations. The private agency representatives also complained that clients and their representatives often cannot meet or talk by telephone with welfare workers.
Jan Hansen, director of district offices in Kearns and in northwest Salt Lake City, responded to questions about staff morale and workers' ability to deal emotionally with the problems.
"It is absolutely terrible. I guess you want to hear about the clients, but I want to talk about workers, too, because in 23 years (of experience in Social Services system) I have never seen workers work harder and try harder to deal with the problems and still not be able to do it - and with no rewards," she said.
The group will meet again at noon Jan. 10 in the State Social Services Building in an attempt to resolve the problems.