Last month, P3 Alert ran a story about the privatization of Texas social services. Well, the nightmare continues this month as scores of people who thought they were sending applications for Medicaid, food stamps and welfare to a toll-free fax number provided by the State Health and Human Services Commission were really flooding a warehouse in Seattle, Wash., with their private and confidential information.
Confused warehouse workers tried to call the senders to no avail. They then decided to shred the avalanche of birth certificates, Social Security numbers, and even income tax forms and pay stubs, to protect the confidentiality of the senders’ information.
The warehouse workers had repeatedly complained to Health and Human Services, but it took three weeks before it took any action.
Blame it on the headlong rush to privatize public services, says the Austin, Texas-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. Anne Dunkelberg, a senior policy analyst at the centre, says the mix-up is only the latest example of dozens of technical problems that clients have been enduring with a private contractor in charge of a new eligibility system.
“It’s a real shame… that yet another technical problem is getting in the way of people getting the benefits they qualify for,” Dunkelberg said.
The state government plans to replace 99 of its 310 eligibility offices across Texas with four call centres run by a private company called Texas Access Alliance. People were supposed to mail or fax their applications for social support services, along with supporting documents, to the TAA which would then organize, evaluate and forward the applications to the commission.
The problem, only discovered after weeks of head-scratching, is that the TAA’s toll-free fax number is the same as that of the Take Care Store warehouse in Seattle, except for the first three “800” digits.