Concerned social workers and their clients tell NBC 5 Investigates a new computer system that is supposed to assist Illinois families could spoil the holidays for tens of thousands of residents who are applying for food and medical benefits.
NBC 5 Investigates has also learned the state went ahead with the $193 million system, despite early warnings.
The first phase of the Integrated Eligibility System (IES) used by the Department of Human Services rolled-out in 2013. It worked in conjunction with a forty-year-old system used by case workers to determine client eligibility until October, when the older software was completely replaced by the second phase of IES.
However, a state audit revealed the first phase of IES in 2013 went live with known problems. According to the audit, the lack of due diligence and an effective and controlled project management process over IES led to additional project expenditures for revisions and a system that did not completely meet the needs of the state.
Since October, case workers have said IES has experienced glitches and shutdowns that are creating delays and crowded waiting rooms. Case workers said client meetings that used to take minutes can now take one hour.
“We took these jobs because we want to help people and right now it seems like we have one hand tied before our back and especially ahead of the holidays, it’s not a good feeling as workers,” said DHS case worker Brian Poncin, who represented his union during an interview with NBC 5 Investigates.
The delays are impacting DHS offices from Englewood to Skokie. Some describe it as chaos just ahead of the holidays.
“It affected my last month and I’m trying to see if it’s going to affect this month as well,” said a DHS recipient outside of the Englewood office.
Maria Perez is a DHS supervisor who also represented her union in an interview with NBC 5 Investigates. She said clients are getting angry.
“What we keep telling them is the workers are trying to help you. Unfortunately, the system either keeps kicking them out, it’s working too slow, we’re getting stuck on glitches,” Perez said.
The DHS acknowledges a shaky start, but said the process will improve.
“It’s supposed to be more efficient and in time it will be,” said DHS local office administrator Ramon Ortiz. “Just like with any new technology when you first roll it out, there are issues. There’s a learning curve.”
A spokesperson for IES designer, Deloitte, said there have been some temporary delays in service as caseworkers and staff adjust to the new technology and new business processes. Deloitte said it is also making improvements and enhancements to the system.
“We worked with the State to prepare for these scenarios and we have teams in place to resolve outstanding issues, minimize any inconvenience to customers, and get people the benefits for which they are eligible as quickly as possible,” said a Deloitte spokesperson.
Clients can use the new system to manage their benefits online. A DHS spokesperson said 2.5 million people have used IES to apply for benefits since 2013.
A social services computer system from Deloitte that is used in Rhode Island has caused backlogs for case workers since it went online in 2016. A spokesperson for Deloitte said the Illinois IES is a completely different system than Rhode Island’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project, which combined a state-based health insurance exchange with an Integrated Eligibility System.
Deloitte also said Illinois IES is based on a transfer solution that was successfully implemented in Michigan and then customized to meet the specific needs of Illinois residents and to comply with Illinois state policies, rules and regulations.
A DHS spokesperson said the state selected Deloitte in 2013 through a competitive procurement process.
“We cannot speak to what information was known by the previous administration when this decision was made but we understand the systems implemented by Deloitte in other states are different types of systems with different needs than Illinois’,” said a DHS spokesperson.
The DHS said it is also processing an “unusually high” volume of applications for health care because the federal government reduced the Affordable Care Act’s 2017 Open Enrollment period from three months to just six weeks – Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, 2017.