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New way of organizing state aid draws praise, complaints

7/12/2012

TOPEKA (AP) -- A change in how Kansas organizes its aid distribution has improved efficiency and reduced wait time, a state official said, while some of the recipients complained the new system is confusing and leaves them waiting longer.

TOPEKA (AP) -- A change in how Kansas organizes its aid distribution has improved efficiency and reduced wait time, a state official said, while some of the recipients complained the new system is confusing and leaves them waiting longer.

In the past, state aid recipients were assigned their own case workers by the agency formerly known as the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

The agency's name was changed last week to the Kansas Department for Children and Families, which started a program in 15 of its offices to organize caseworkers into "teams" designated to perform certain tasks, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/LRyfBp ).

A blue team is for eligibility reviews, a purple team oversees changes in existing benefits and a red team works on Temporary Assistance for Families benefits.

The new system has reduced wait times and is far more efficient, agency spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said Wednesday.

"We've had remarkably good outcomes since we started this program," de Rocha said.

She said the agency found the longest wait time for blue team services as of Wednesday was 25 minutes. The purple team's longest recorded wait time was 28 minutes and the red team's was seven minutes, she said.

That was not the case for some aid recipients in the Topeka office Wednesday, the Capital-Journal reported.

Kimberly Morfitt said she waited two hours Wednesday morning and had waited three hours on a previous visit. She said the lengthy waits were hard to fit into her work schedule.

"On the one hand, they want you to work because then you're not on public assistance," Morfitt said. "Then on the other hand, you have to come here and wait."

Morfitt said not having a person caseworker meant there is "nobody to hold responsible anymore."

De Rocha said some aid recipients contribute to the delays by not bringing the proper paperwork to the office. She contended for initial applicants, the process of determining eligibility had been reduced from a month in some cases to an average of 45 minutes.

"That was just amazing how much faster we're able to determine eligibility and process case work," de Rocha said.

Several people at the Topeka office on Wednesday complained of problems with the agency's phone system. Morfitt and others said they tried to call with questions but had to leave a voicemail and the calls weren't returned. Morfitt said she was told the office receives 200 voicemails per day and can't respond to them all.

The agency is supposed to return calls within 48 hours and De Rocha said the new system should help case workers meet that goal.

"If they've got a team instead of one case worker, the chances of getting a call back within that window are a lot better," de Rocha said.