HRA’s Automated System Delaying Public Benefits

By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
March 24, 2009 Updated: March 24, 2009

NEW YORK—Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum released a survey Sunday, March 22, that showed the automated system, Paperless Office System (POS), launched in 1997 by the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), instead of making the public benefit application process automatic, is delaying and causing unnecessary setbacks for New Yorkers trying to access their public benefits.

“The survey shows, that even though HRA has put in a paperless system, that it is not really working. We have surveyed HRA clients, and now we have surveyed HRA employees,” said Gotbaum. “The results are clear: low income New Yorkers continue to face unnecessary and avoidable obstacles accessing public benefits that help put food on the table.”

The Office of the Public Advocate collected 148 surveys from the HRA eligibility specialists at Job Centers, Food Stamp, and Medicaid Offices. The survey findings showed that the obstacles rated “most difficult” were “not enough staff,” followed by “computers are not reliable,” “clients do not bring the necessary documents when applying for benefits,” and “interpreters not available to translate for clients.”

Public Advocate Gotbaum listed examples in which clients bring documents and scan them, but because of faulty scanners, the documents were lost, and being a paperless process, there then are no records of the client having applied. One man waiting to apply for food stamps had to wait for four hours to meet with a specialist, and on many occasions, the clients bring the wrong documents, or not all of the documents, and end up wasting both their own and the specialists’ time, and having to come back through the process again.

“The obstacles are there, and they can be fixed. It’s so simple; we shouldn’t have this type of problem today,” Gotbaum said. “Problems like non-working computers and scanners, long wait times, and lack of interpreters are unacceptable. HRA needs to address these problems and make sure the process runs as smoothly as possibly. In this time of crisis, families cannot afford to wait for improvements any longer.”

She suggested that the HRA: Hire and/or reassign eligibility specialist to high-traffic centers and offices

Improve and regularly assess maintenance of all technology and equipment necessary for processing public benefit applications

Simplify materials (pamphlets, FAQs) on public benefits applications procedures and requirements.

Develop a system for regularly obtaining feedback from staff.

Ensure that interpreters and bilingual staff are available at all HRA centers and offices.

Instruct staff to inform clients they have the right to bring a third party to assist with their public benefits case.