As reported earlier by TSEU, Texas is experiencing a 15 year high in turnover for state agencies. HHSC is being hit particularly hard. Currently, about 1.5 million Texas households receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This is up from 505,968 in 2000. The percentage of Texas households on food stamps has increased from 6.9% in 2000 to around 14% in 2015, yet HHSC employs 4500 fewer caseworkers to process these demands. On top of this sad truth, additional stress has been added to caseworkers due to added expectations from BPR and more Texans taking advantage of the ACA (Obamacare). Higher workloads are leading to an exodus of highly skilled, tenured employees.
Agency officials admitted this was a major problem in their own report to the Sunset Commission:
While staffing issues are ever-present across all agencies, inability to maintain or increasing experienced personnel at levels to match caseload growth inhibits HHSC’s ability to deliver benefits. Compounding this challenge, staff retention, high turnover rates, and a less tenured eligibility workforce make it difficult to effectively respond to caseload increases and maintain performance.
The Human services administration sought out BPR as an intended cure-all for its massive turnover problem.
In 2014, HHSC administrators stated that the “roll out of the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) pilot would alleviate high workloads because the application and renewal processes would be stripped of unnecessary steps.” But just stripping steps isn’t an adequate solution when the problem is an increase in applications being received by state agencies. In fact, as predicted, the BPR rollout has caused its own set of problems such as a lack of accountability with errors, repeated technical failures, and an emphasis on quantity over quality work.
The real solution for an increase in demand should be to hire and train more staff. The state is instead trying to meet the higher demand for services by increasing pressure and monitoring on current staff. They do so with a BPR system that is designed to track key strokes and uses analytics to determine how “hard” an individual is working. This is without any concept of the application process, language barrier, or fatigue of an employee forced to work a 60 hour week. Workers have been turned into parts of a machine that is being used to churn out applications faster with little regard for quality.
As in other agencies, increased workload demands, combined with stagnant pay and a rising cost-of-living are driving up the turnover rates in HHSC. What’s worse, the agency recently announced an indefinite delay in the Federal enhancement bonus. The delay is due to a federal government audit of HHSC’s performance numbers, casting into doubt the supposed success of the BPR rollout.
The position of agency leaders that changing the application process would end the workload crisis in HHSC is proving to be overly optimistic, and not in the spirit of Health and Human Services overall objective of providing needed assistance to qualified Texans. State employees are hardworking and dedicated. What’s needed is enough staff to do our job properly and an across-the-board pay raise so that we can make ends meet.