PRESS RELEASE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 18, 2006
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0127
Sen. Lucio urges Texas Health & Human Services Executive Commissioner
to review conditions and future of state employees at field offices/call centers
AUSTIN, TX--In a recent letter worded heavily with compassion, State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. asked Texas Health and Human Services' Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins to recognize state employees at eligibility field offices who are struggling to manage high caseloads. The workload for these employees has multiplied as fellow workers have been laid off or have left their positions in search of more secure employment.
House Bill 2292 (78th Regular Legislative Session) reorganized the state's human service agencies and required the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to adopt the most efficient means possible for administering benefit programs. Sen. Lucio voted against HB 2292 because it prioritized cost-savings measures above service quality for constituents. Despite Sen. Lucio's opposition, the bill passed and resulted in HHSC's decision to privatize and consolidate the state's system for processing applications for social service programs. HHSC's decision to privatize eligibility determination entailed massive layoffs of state employees at local eligibility field offices. These offices have historically processed applications for programs such as CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program), Medicaid and Food Stamps, but under the privatized plan, only four call centers statewide and a handful of field offices were intended to handle most of these applications. Difficulties with the implementation of the planned rollout to reduce the number of field offices and staff has delayed the process.
In recent weeks, Sen. Lucio has spoken to numerous state employees, including many workers who learned over email that they would likely experience a layoff in the near future. Many state employees who remain in their positions are now working 60-hour weeks without guarantees for future employment.
"I applaud the rollout delays you have requested in recent months," Sen. Lucio told the Commissioner in the letter, "but I am still extremely concerned about the future for these state employees who are now being asked to reassume intake functions...without any guarantees their positions will not be contracted out in the immediate future.
"I hope you will seriously consider how we can retain and reward our loyal state employees. Eligibility workers are some of the most important public servants we have in this state and they deserve dignity and respect. I also ask that you consider making the contracting process more transparent in the future so that benefit recipients, employees and policy-makers can better know what to expect with regard to major systematic changes."
Note: Ms. Kate Volti, Policy Analyst, handles this issue for Sen. Lucio and can be reached at 512-463-0127.