Playing catch-up

Glitches plague Social Services computers

Social Services offices in Colorado still are struggling to pay benefits on time or correctly four months after implementing a new payment system.

The problem isn't as bad in Moffat County as it is in other counties, but it is still troubling residents who are receiving Medicaid benefits behind schedule.

New complications arise all the time, Moffat County Social Services Director Marie Peer said Monday.

"People are having a devil of a time trying to work with pharmacies and doctors," Peer said.

That's because of the department's latest problem. Social Services departments across Colorado converted to the Colorado Benefits Management System in September at the order of the governor. But the new program contained glitches, the latest of which in Moffat County is not allowing Medicaid recipients' eligibility information to be transferred from one program to another.

Medicaid benefits are the only benefits that take Peer's office more than 45 days to issue. The state mandates that benefits must be processed in fewer than 45 days.

But other benefits, such as food stamps, are being issued at incorrect values. The state is allowing people to keep overpayments, Peer said. Recipients have the option of returning the overpayments.

Eligibility for Social Services benefits is processed at county offices, but the actual benefits are issued from the state office.

In November at a meeting of the governor appointed CBMS Task Force, Peer suggested counties begin issuing the benefits at the same time that workers determine eligibility. This would bypass the CBMS system and its problems.

No one listened to Peer's suggestion, but the task force is beginning to consider it, said Laura Willems, Social Services self-sufficiency coordinator.

Mel Day, general manager of Columbine Apartments, said about 26 percent of his tenants are struggling to pay rent because they are receiving late or incorrect benefits. Columbine has 120 apartments.

Tenants often struggle to pay rent in January, as they face post-Christmas financial problems, Day said.

"Every year we sort of go through this, but this year it's double last year for the same period," Day said.

Social Services handles 800 benefits cases. Three hundred of those cases aren't having complications, Peer said. But the other 500 need to be updated as often as every month.

In December, a Denver judge ordered the state to clear the benefits backlog by 40 percent by Feb. 8.

Since then, the state hasn't given any instructions to county departments, Peer said. But the state has made it clear that counties need to reduce their backlogs, she said.

If the state fails to meet the deadline, Peer expects a special master to be appointed to the state department to resolve the situation.

But that's a situation no one wants, Peer said. She expects that solution to add another layer of bureaucracy to the problem.

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