|Not Happy Holidays for DHS Workers and Clients|
"If there has ever been a time when there are more problems in DHS, I am not aware of it” says veteran Department of Human Services (DHS) worker Wanda Withers.
DHS offices across the state are overwhelmed. Most local offices do not have enough staff, the computers are too slow, caseloads are too high, threats against workers (by both management and the public) happen daily, unreasonable work expectations are demanded and the list goes on and on. And there appears to be no relief in sight.
Local 6000 has attempted to discuss these issues at Statewide Labor/Management meetings, a forum for workers and managers to discuss mutual concerns. The issues are universal around the state.
Computers Too Slow: It is clear that Bridges (the DHS new computer system) was never designed to handle the current large caseloads. Even DHS management have acknowledge this problem. The many millions of dollars that was spent on Bridges could have been better spent elsewhere.
Lack of staff: Although it is true that DHS is still hiring, and has hired a lot of Eligibility Specialist workers (and others) during the past year, it is not enough. There is a constant attrition with people leaving for various reasons, whether it is medical leaves, retiring, getting other jobs, or just resigning. Although the overall DHS staffing is up, that is only in the short term. DHS is still a much smaller department than in the 1990’s and 1980’s but with much larger workloads. The Union has advocated for more staff, the legislature has approved the hiring of more staff, but it just isn’t enough. Those seeking services from DHS are finding longer and longer lines at offices and many days before a eligibility determination is made.
Unreasonable Work Expectations: Management is making demands on employees as if their caseload was 300 cases not 700 or more cases. Workers wonder how managers expect the work to be done and done properly. They are just asking for the error rate to go up again. Management decided to change the Recoupment policy in the middle of all the problems that are going on in the Department. This obviously wasn’t well thought out. Although it was good that DHS rescinded the original Recoupment changes (changing the limit from $500 to $10, and having all workers do recoupment), the new recoupment policy ($125) still involves more work.The changes in expedited Food Assistance Program (FAP (same day expedited FAP, no exceptions) that workers are being told to do, shows they just don’t get it -- they don’t understand how overwhelmed people are.
Threats Against Workers: There has been a lot of publicity given to the testimony that DHS workers from around the state gave to the Legislature on November 4th. This was front page news in almost every newspaper in Michigan. They documented how because of the overwhelming caseloads, and the fact that workers can’t keep up, workers are being harassed and threatened. But the other parts of the threats are from management. Workers are constantly being threatened with discipline or corrective action plans if they can’t keep up. “We don’t need this. We need help, not threats” says a worker from Isabella DHS.
And speaking of threats: Since most managers state that the call for harassment and threats are coming directly from DHS Deputy Director Stanley Stewart, the DHS Labor/Management team has asked Stanley Stewart to come to the meeting to address these concerns. So far he has refused. Whether it is because he doesn’t care that the Department has all these problems or arrogance on his part, team members do not know.. But someone has to be accountable for what is going on in this department, and it should start at the top with Ishmael Ahmed and Stanley Stewart.
People need to keep in mind that it is not the fault of the dedicated DHS workers. Workers are not the cause of the bad economy that has caused the lobbies to be overflowing with people applying for assistance. Workers are not the ones who designed the Bridges computer system. Workers are not the ones who downsized the department years ago, leaving us with too few workers. Workers are not the ones who write polices and procedures for the Department. Workers are the ones who see on a daily basis the often unpublished effects of our lagging economy, and hear the cry for help from many.
By Jim Walkowicz
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