Overworked caseworkers report threats, frustrations

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Rising numbers of welfare, food stamp and Medicaid clients are causing state workers to struggle with caseloads and recipients to become frustrated.
One result is a growing number of threats, employees of the Department of Human Services (DHS) testified at legislative hearing. They said they are overwhelmed, and some of the people seeking help are taking out their frustrations over delays and lack of attention on workers.
Many of the 83 DHS field offices are swamped with clients, making it highly possible that paperwork goes missing or some money isn’t managed correctly, said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.
DHS reports an average of about 700 cases per worker in its field offices.
“They are understaffed, dysfunctional, and it’s a endless cycle because the resources aren’t there, Tlaib said.
The department has a zero-tolerance policy on clients who assault employees. Police reports are made when incidents occur. Individual offices have safety guidelines, said state officials.
The problem is simply that the state has to deal with more people applying for assistance, said Terry Salacina, director of field offices.
The state’s “bridges” system was not built for heavy caseloads, so delays can occur.
“Bridges” is the name of the new computer system developed at DHS to determine eligibility and benefit levels for cash, medical, food and childcare assistance.
“Everything is a money issue,” said Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville, vice chair of the Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
A DHS worker in Flint told him of an incident in which a man scaled over an office divider with an object in his hand and threatened her. She was afraid for her life, Agema said.
He said workers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons.  But as governmental units, DHS offices are off-limits for employees carrying weapons inside their cars or inside the buildings.
Agema said the “bridges” system is not user-friendly, DHS workers have been furloughed and their phone system is inadequate.
“ There are problems we need to deal with inside the DHS, but the key is to make Michigan a business-friendly state. When we can attract business, we won’t have this problem,” said Agema.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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