State review: Butler County Job and Family Services shows improvement

While the state determined Butler County Job and Family Services is “at risk of falling below a standard” in two of 16 categories in an annual evaluation, it also acknowledged improvements made by the agency since its last review.

The agency is “at risk of falling below a standard” in the areas of case management and expedited food stamp applications and needed a continuous improvement plan in four other areas, including income and eligibility verification.

However, food stamp timeliness improved from 68 percent in 2014 to 93 percent from January through March this year. The state’s optimum is 95 percent.

“We still have a continuous improvement plan required for that because it’s not 95 for that time period, but we are over 95 now…,” Assistant Director Jerome Kearns said. “But we went from 68 to 93, huge gains.”

According to Kearns, the county is currently at 97 percent in food stamp timeliness.

The state reviewed 90 cases and found 16 incorrect cases, eight cases that required a response from the agency and four instances where the cases were handled correctly but had some procedural issues.

The last review, from 2014 looked at 105 cases for correctness, timeliness and proper documentation and found 36 cases had issues, and of those, 18 required a response from the county.

Under the category of expedited food stamp applications — 72-hour turn around — the last review identified eight of 15 cases as untimely. The number of untimely cases dropped to two during the review period this year. The timeliness rate for expedited cases now stands at 95 percent.

Kearns said the timeliness factor is the most important and bad numbers could prompt — although it hasn’t happened yet — financial sanctions from the state and federal governments. But the real impact is on those in need. .

“The real impact is when we’re only 68 percent timely that means that 32 percent of the applications were not done timely, so people didn’t have access to the benefits to support themselves in a timely manner,” he said. “That’s the big impact.”

Kearns and others have said staffing and training were the culprits behind the less than favorable review in 2014. In November 2011 JFS lost 50 workers — 44 were laid off and six resigned in the face of layoffs — to make up a $3 million shortfall in the agency caused by state and federal cuts. According to the 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, there were 195 total JFS employees in 2007 and that dropped to a low of 90 in 2012.

There are 99 public assistance staffers today and five vacancies — not including upper level administrative jobs — according to Finance Director Barb Fabelo.

County Administrator Charlie Young said not only has increasing staff been crucial, but also sending 22 — including several at JFS — managers to a “boot camp” training to improve processes has been invaluable.

“We have achieved extraordinary success and I think the majority of that success is a result of implementing the lessons we’ve learned through the Lean (LeanOhio Camp) training process,” Young said. “Essentially eliminating unnecessary steps, eliminating unnecessary actions throughout and focusing on making it easier for our clients to be served.”

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