You *CHOW WHAT’S WHoWC, WITH THIS CouNTRY? AU. THE WELFARE CHEATS AND DRUG AD* Wen! WE SHOULD JUST LOCK THEM ALL UP AND mew AWAY anis REY-Tom Tomorrow not stand to gain by denying benefitsand if anyone’s saying that, it’s completely inaccurate.” Opponents of privatization respond that whatever the assurances made by corporations about quality of service during the bidding process, once in place they will return to their primary incentive cutting costs. TSEU’s Travis Donaho argues that unlike state workers, whose first duty is to their clients, the private operators will owe their jobs and their loyalty to the corporation that employs them. “TIES is not about efficiency, because the programs subject to it are too divergent to allow computer integration. What it will really mean, is that anyone who can’t operate a [computer] kiosk won’t get benefits….Fast customers make fast profits….The trick is to make clients go away.” Other critics believe that the project is partly driven by “techno-faddism,” the politically popular delusion that computers can solve all social problems. The Center for Public Policy Priorities pointed out that it’s not even clear that “integrated eligibility” is really needed in Texas. “The primary programs to be integrated,” according to the Austin-based public interest group, “AFDC, Food Stamps, Medicaid, JOBS and Food Stamps E&Talready have integrated eligibility determination and enrollment.” Supporters of TIES point to the Lone Star Electronic Benefits Transfer Card as a successful form of computerization. The EBT has replaced food stamps and other direct cash benefits with the sort of computer transfer now familiar to consumers from automatic cash machines. But there is another story to the Lone Star Card which has received a good deal less publicity. The company charged with administering the Lone Star Help Desk telephone service, Transactive Corporation \(a subsidiary of GTECH, the withheld several million dollars in payment under the contract until Transactive agreed to remedy the problems, which included: long waits for service, inadequate service, inaccurate information, poor training of operators, and other serious failings contributing, said the DHS; to an “unacceptable level of performance.” Moreover, to cut its own expenses Transactive moved its client Help Linesand numerous jobsI-from Texas to Florida without receiving clearance from DHS. DHS says it has since released the money and the controversy is “old news,” but an agency source fa MARCH 14, 1997 miliar with the contract says that Transactive low-balled its costs in order to win the bid, is now losing money and looking for partners, and the state may be left holding the bag. “All [the state] can do is threaten to withhold payment and hope things get better.” Asked about the problems with Transactive and how similar problems with TIES would be prevented, Charles Stuart of HHSC responded, “All those possible scenarios will be controlled by the contract.” Transactive’ s initial contract was for seven years, and several DHS workers say the Help Desk performance has not improved. “We still get thirty to forty complaints every week from clients who have not been helped by the Help Desk, and have to come back to us,” said Joyce Wright, a Dallas DHS intake screener with thirteen years’ experience. “Homeless people lose cards, or have a problem or questions, and they’re supposed to dial in nineteen numbers on the telephone from a card they don’t have. They just get cut off. Transactive is getting paid, and we’re doing their work for them….Supervisors and state officials can sit there and theorize all they want, but the everyday application is a whole different thing.” The union has also pointed to a laundry list of notorious service problems, corruption, and job-slashing with huge government contractors like Lockheed, EDS, and IBM. It seems that in the world of corporate malfeasance, there’s no such thing as zero tolerance. HUMAN FACES Joyce Wright came to Austin last month with a large group of fellow TSEU members, determined to lobby the Legislature against TIES and on behalf of public employees. They were joined by a smaller group of welfare recipients, mostly members of the community organization ACORN in Dallas and Houston, who said they wanted to “put a human face on the welfare problem.” Perhaps a hundred strong, they broke into smaller groups to visit legislative offices and the floor, to try to catch a few sympathetic political ears. Mostly they stood in Capitol hallways, talking to young legislative aides, who listened patiently and promised to pass on their concerns to their bosses. The amateur lobbyists seemed tireless in effort and determined THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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