IBM on notice after Indiana welfare deal - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

IBM on notice after Indiana welfare deal

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Angelina Anderson Angelina Anderson
Christina O'Key Christina O'Key

Rich Van Wyk/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Indiana's billion-dollar project to fix the welfare system needs fixing. State officials want corrections soon or a huge contract could be in question.

Half of Indiana's infants are born receiving welfare. More than one million adults and children rely on the Family and Social Services Administration for food, health care and other services many recipients insist are a mess.

Outside the Indianapolis FSSA office, Brenda Davis, a single mom, says paperwork is repeatedly lost. "Or they are not doing their job. I have to sit here all day."

Marion County is not even part of the modernization roll-out. Still, many people are dealing with problems in the old system.

Davis isn't alone with her problems. Christina O'Key has a two-year-old. " I've never met my caseworker, not once," she said.

Angelina Anderson says she needs a new food stamp debit card. "They said they don't have anymore. I have three children to feed."

The Indianapolis FSSA office is waiting for a new computer system. Unfortunately counties already using it found it's not working much better than the old one.

But the state's focus right now is on a ten-year, $1 billion contract with IBM to computerize state welfare benefits. At the moment 59 counties are online. The counties using the system complain of numerous delays, lost documents and unresponsiveness. 

Marcus Barlow, FSSA Communications Director, admitted, "The timeless and error rates are about the same as they've always been."

To fix the problems, the state and IBM, the contractor running the system, are implementing an improvement plan.

The job is to move an ancient paper system in to the electronic age of computers. The problem appears to have less to do with computers and more to do with the people and processes using the information.

The operation is hiring 350 additional workers, improving training and worker retention programs and the transfer paper records to computers.

FSSA insists it is committed to making the $1 billion contract with IBM work.

"Canceling the contract is not something that we are focused on right now. That is not to say it's not something we would focus on in the future. Right not is not part of the discussions," said Barlow.

FSSA expects improvements from IBM by the fall. The state's options appear to be limited. 59 counties are using the new system. Putting them back under a state system would be difficult. Officials concede there aren't many other companies with the resources to take on the job.

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