Lawmakers frustrated by five years of delays and more than $100 million in spending to overhaul the state's antiquated system for Medicaid and food stamp benefits want to know when, or if, it will be brought into the 21st century.
The delay to implement what is known as the Consolidated Assistance Support System, a centralized computer network for social service programs, has caused serious backlogs and raised concerns that federal and state money has been wasted on a system that may never go into operation.
On Thursday, the Assembly Human Services Committee heard testimony from the state auditor, who through a separate audit in 2013 stumbled upon what he called the project’s “significant barriers to completion,” as well as representatives from sectors affected by the delays. The committee also cleared two bills aimed at speeding up benefits to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
The state and federal government have already spent about $118 million on the computer system and could spend a total of $227 million with no clear answer on whether it will ever become functional. The system, which was to be created by Hewlett-Packard, was designed to consolidate application and eligibility information for the SNAP and Medicaid programs in all 21 counties. The current system is fractured, and agency workers are manually inputting data, often into multiple systems.
Hewlett-Packard received the contract in 2009 and was supposed to have the system running by this July. But the project had widespread problems – a lack of resources, a revolving door of managers and numerous “red flags,” auditors said. The Department of Human Services is canceling the contract with Hewlett-Packard.
“I’m very disturbed by this, because for the past four years it seems like we have just been adding to the distress of families that are in need of this, families that are hungry,” said Gabriela Mosquera, D-Gloucester.
North Jersey’s low-income residents have felt the effects. Bergen and Passaic counties are in the state’s top 10 identified by human services “to be of most concern” because of SNAP application backlogs. In Medicaid, Bergen County had a high of 2,661 application cases backlogged, according to the department.
“It’s creating havoc with lives,” said Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, the committee’s chairwoman. “When you’re spending these kinds of dollars on a computer system, you’d think it’d be up and running without glitches.”
The department declined to comment due to negotiations to terminate the contract. Commissioner Jennifer Velez also declined to testify about the project for the same reason. She did, however, send a letter to the committee saying the department was providing training and technical assistance to all counties to help “improve performance outcomes” for SNAP and has sent “many” of the backlogged Medicaid cases to a contractor for processing.