Glitches in Illinois’ new multi-million dollar benefits eligibility system are to blame for continued delays in food, cash and medical benefits to people in need, according to Department of Human Services workers speaking on behalf of their union.
Additionally, clients who depend on state assistance have contacted NBC 5 Investigates in recent weeks to complain about benefits delays and lack of communication from the DHS.
“I applied for SNAP and medical benefits, which I just found out I lost due to the office not responding to any of my 8-10 messages for communication,” wrote one DHS client.
One woman said her 96-year-old mother applied for her benefits before a March deadline, but has yet to receive an answer from the state. The woman said her mother has had a Link card for more than thirty years.
“Never has she been so desolate without her means to buy food,” she wrote. “Obviously, the current system is not running smoothly.”
NBC 5 Investigates first reported the issue in December, when DHS employees who were representing their union explained that the state’s integrated eligibility system (IES) sometimes experienced shut downs. Unionized state employees have said cases that used to take fifteen minutes to complete can now take more than one hour.
“I don’t think they actually notice how bad it’s affecting our clients and we’re here to serve them,” said DHS case worker Joseline Melendez, who spoke on behalf of her union.
The state acknowledged in December that it could have done a better job explaining its new system. Still, officials stressed that it is up to clients to meet important deadlines. The DHS also urges clients to manage their cases online without entering a DHS office.
Fran Tobin of the Alliance for Community Services advocates for DHS clients and workers. He said applying online can be a problem for people without Internet access.
“Even those who can do some of it, the system doesn’t work properly,” Tobin said. “We need enough case workers to actually give people the time and the attention that they deserve and so they can actually focus on the cases and make sure that things are handled properly.”
In a statement, the Department of Human Services said it is committed to helping the people of Illinois receive the benefits and support for which they are eligible.
“Our new Integrated Eligibility System allows us to more accurately determine eligibility, but it also provides new resources for IDHS customers, allowing them to manage their cases online without visiting an office. Customers who are using the new features of IES and have signed up for Manage My Case online are able to receive messages immediately when they are available.
Remember, IES replaced several antiquated computer systems that were more than 40 years old. Transitioning to a system this large and complex can present challenges and learning curves but it’s important to note that since the IES launch last October, more than 230,000 people have opened self-service accounts online through Manage My Case and over 112,000 people have renewed their benefits or reported changes through IES. Almost 20,000 people have opted to go-green and only receive notifications online. Over 2.5 million people are currently receiving their benefits through IES.
We also recently launched a successful pilot that will soon roll out statewide that allows us to email and text our customers with upcoming important program dates and information. We highly encourage customers to sign up for Manage My Case and provide their email and cell phone numbers to take advantage of this new feature. We are confident that the system will continue to improve staff and customer experience.”