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DHS changing with times

Published 10:38pm Monday, January 9, 2012

CASSOPOLIS — In the near future, “iPhones are going to be rolled out to all the (Department of Human Services) service workers. Land lines are going to become a thing of the past very soon for services.
“iPhones will have wifi hot spot capabilities so they can have computers out in the field and be able to input dictation data,”  Department of Human Services Director Cindy Underwood said in an interview Monday.
“We’re trying to move workers out of brick and mortar into the field. We just recently went online for all applications for payments. You can apply for cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and state emergency relief online without ever having to come into the office,”“We see fewer and fewer people on services,” she said of how Michigan’s economy looks from her perspective heading field offices in Cassopolis and Centreville in eastern neighbor St. Joseph County.
“There’s a little bit of increase in day care, which is an indication to us that people are getting jobs. Or, that compliance is tightening up so people who were drawing assistance who probably shouldn’t have been are being identified and those cases are being closed.”
During the recession her agency saw “a lot of people coming in who have always worked and been able to pay their bills. Now, all of a sudden, their bills outdo the income they have and they’re applying for services. The asset test affects it a little bit.
“As of Jan. 1, having a vehicle is exempt from applying for food stamps. A lot of families have worked all their lives and all of a sudden they don’t have any income — but they’ve got a car, so we’re going to penalize them and not make them be able to feed their families?
“There never used to be an asset test until a person won the lottery and was still on food stamps, which created a public outcry. There are lots of changes trying to balance what’s right as opposed to what the State of Michigan can bear.”
Technology brings more accountability to bear on employees.
“Lansing can see everything we do through the computer systems,” Underwood said, “and they didn’t have that ability before. There’s more scrutiny of how many overdues there are, how many pending registrations for payments or how many cases where we made errors. It gets away from excuses like, ‘I’m just so busy.’
“Technology really gives us the ability to look at where we’re at and making workers a lot more accountable.”
Methamphetamine has changed CPS because more children need to be removed from homes.
“It’s such a different type of drug than marijuana or cocaine,” she said. “It’s volatile and so much more risk” because of toxic chemicals, “It usually results in immediate removals. We have seven PS workers here and we used to have five.
“That directly relates to the number of referrals coming in. There was a big explosion of numbers the first year, then it evened out a little bit. You’d think at some point people would stop cooking it out there in the county with the drug team we have. Meth keeps CPS plenty busy.”

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