Automated Community Connection to Economic Self Sufficiency – ACCESS Florida

Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF)
State of Florida

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ACCESS Florida comprehensively reengineered the eligibility process for public assistance services in the state. ACCESS uses innovative technology and relationships with over 3,300 community partners to achieve efficiency and cost-effectiveness, while allowing for customer self direction, self-service and self-reliance. Legislative direction following welfare reform and the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) internal self-examination of Florida’s public assistance service delivery model concluded the eligibility determination system was stagnant, and the business model too dated to provide the efficiencies required of public agencies.

ACCESS Florida processes people monthly, food stamps to 1.6 million households and temporary cash assistance to 56,000 families and provides Medicaid to 2.5 million people. We process 5 million cases per year. The administrative costs incrementally reduced by $83 million annually between 2003 and 2006. This represented a 29% reduction in funds and an initial 43% reduction in staffing despite an increase in caseload. Those savings are now sustained and recur each year.

Policy simplification and technology innovations formed the basis of this “re-invention” of Florida’s public assistance delivery system, now known as modernization. In July 2004, ACCESS Florida became operational statewide. Within four months, four hurricanes hit the state, creating an urgent need to accelerate development of a web front end for the legacy computer system to expedite processing disaster aid. The new technology not only supported the provision of $381 million in disaster aid to 3.4 million people during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, but fundamentally changed operation of the regular programs.

Key features of the model include:

Simplified policy and procedure: Fewer requirements for face-to-face interviews and paper documentation, improved use of electronic data matches and telephone communication.

Web-based application: Over 90% of applications are now submitted electronically from homes, businesses, government offices and a network of community organizations.

Call centers: Three regional offices equipped with an automated response unit receive more than two million calls a month, about a third of which are handled without a need to speak with a call agent.

Expanded customer access: A network of more than 3,100 partner agency sites provides access to Florida’s public assistance services.

Electronic document management: A virtual case filing system using scanning technology supports workload management and reduces storage and retrieval costs.

Electronic Case Management System: the ACCESS Management System gives workers the ability to complete their work in a web-based environment instead of than the Mainframe.

On-line Customer Account System: My ACCESS Account is a secure electronic portal that allows customers to complete an eligibility review, apply for additional benefits, report changes to their case or request a replacement Medicaid card.

Reduced administrative costs: Savings of $83 million a year including an overall 41% reduction in staff. (Initially 43% reduction, plus about 200 positions funded by medical providers and community partners.)

Florida’s redesigned model has fundamentally changed public assistance service delivery in this country. Beginning in 2004, staff basically turned the Economic Self-Sufficiency program upside down and was able to show efficiencies to the entire country. Over 40 states have visited to examine the practices and replicate pieces of the model to fit their structure. The term “modernization” is one we coined and it has taken hold nationally. In 2006, the Southeast Regional Office of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) created a matrix of changes to the food stamp (now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) service delivery system based on Florida’s model. The major categories listed were: policy, procedures, enhanced technology, eligibility systems, and outsourcing. At that time, the FNS benchmarked other states around what Florida had implemented. By December 2006, Florida was the only state with on-line change reporting, on-line case status and a document imaging system. Florida was first to create the vision of a sound Community Partner Network with not-for-profit agencies, faith-based partners and others providing “access” to customers.

Start-up costs for modernization into the ACCESS model were funded by savings from existing appropriation generated through a 43% reduction in employees and leased space. The ACCESS program held money back (beyond the legislatively required reductions) to invest in things like:

  • The Automated Response Unit and equipment for the call centers.
  • New desktop computers and dual monitors.
  • A document imaging/storage and retrieval system.
  • Web application programming and hardware.

Florida developed a web page for state replication of the ACCESS innovations with award money from a 2007 Innovations in American Government Award. The website is: www.accessfloridainnovations.com.

Most importantly, the model improves services to Floridians. Reviewing statistics since the model changed in 2003, the number of eligibility workers has decreased by 41% but the number of applications per month has increased since by 115% and the average number of applications disposed of per worker, per month has increased by 179%. Increased efficiencies of the model are dramatic.

The national economic recession impacted Florida by more than doubling the SNAP caseload since 2007. ACCESS would not have been able to meet the needs of the citizens if processes for eligibility determination for public assistance benefits were not continuously improved. Florida’s redesigned model began with streamlining policy, requesting federal waivers to policy, enhancing technology, specializing business functions, and redesigning office locations to host self-service areas.

Florida’s ACCESS program is a forerunner in administrative efficiency. In 2003, at legislative direction, the program embarked on the most dramatic and sweeping reengineering of public assistance eligibility determination in the history of the United States. As a result, staffing was initially reduced by 43% and the state and federal governments are saving $83 million per year. Since the reengineering of ACCESS, more than 40 of the 50 states, including Massachusetts, have sent representatives to Florida to experience first-hand the changes the program made to its business processes and service delivery system.

Technology is an integral and growing part of life in 21st century America, and provides tremendous opportunity for efficiency and cost effectiveness. The ACCESS vision therefore relies heavily on expanded and improved technology in both the outward facing (directly used by customers) and inward facing (directly used by staff) systems. Each activity that can be achieved through technology frees human resources to do what technology cannot. This includes answering non-routine phone calls, and providing individual assistance to those who need special help, including people with disabilities and literacy issues that can make technology more challenging.

ACCESS Florida is clearly the way of the future for service delivery across the country. The model is adaptable and flexible, with potential to save millions of dollars in administrative costs nationwide. It expands customer access by making it easier to apply for benefits. It promotes self-service, reducing data entry and paper documentation, eliminating required travel to a DCF office. It allows for faster benefits issuance and supports self-sufficiency. This is a process of continuous quality improvement, in which the system evolves in response to changes in customer needs and technology.

Contact the Author:
Cathy Kenyon
Operations and Management Consultant Manager
1317 Winewood Blvd., Building 3, Room 465
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Phone: (850) 228-2906
E-mail: cathy_kenyon@dcf.state.fl.us

 

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