10/2/2009 5:00 PM
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus announced today they support adding about 650 new full-time jobs to the federal food stamp program in Texas in order to expedite processing and application times to meet with a federal mandate.
So far there has been no word from the Office of the Governor on the move.
According to a press release from Dewhurst and Straus, the state of Texas wiil immediately fill nearly 400 vacancies in the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to maximize efficiency in administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and Medicaid. The goal is to make sure applications are processed within one month, the press release said.
Federal law requires that applications be processed within 30 days. According to the Austin American-Statesman, 38,000 applications were delayed past the deadline recently, which drew the attention of the feds.
Last week, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) denied the HHSC's request for additional employees. But this afternoon, the LBB sent a letter to HHSC instructing the agency to immediately fill the 400 vacancies within the agency and over time hire an additional 250 full time employees as necessary. LBB staff also requested newly appointed HHSC Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs come up with a plan for streamlining the process.
An HHSC spokesperson told the Statesman the commission will consider implementing an electronic fingerprinting program to speed up verification and delivery of services, even though they doubt the finger imaging would make much of a difference in timing. Dewhurst told the Statesman he backs the fingerprinting idea, and that it would cut down on fraud and duplication. Texas law already requires food stamp applicants to be fingerprinted, so the prints are on record for each recipient.
"One of the things I think Texas needs to do is streamline their operations," said William Ludwig, a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, via the Statesman. "Finger imaging is very time-consuming."