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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Job and Family Services offices in Wood and Knox counties will embark next month on a collaborative effort to pool applications for food stamps, Medicaid, and other assistance programs.

Five other counties, Delaware, Hancock, Marion, Morrow, and Sandusky plan to join the project in January 2012 and Seneca County may join once it is up and running.

Under what is called Collabor8, the county JFS offices will be trying to jointly function as one large county office, sharing a data network that will allow the offices to even out case flows, said David Wigent, the recently appointed director of the Wood County office.

That will be no small feat, considering the counties estimate they’ll have a combined average of 2,500 new applications a month for food stamps – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - and Medicaid, and monetary assistance as well as another 3,600 “re-determinations” of eligibility.

Under the new format, applicants who call a toll-free number could reach a caseworker in any of the counties.

Rather than shepherding a case to its completion, employees will have a specific responsibility covering many cases. Cases involving child welfare and similar issues will still have caseworkers assigned to them. Children services also won’t be affected by the change.

If the project, which has been in the planning stages for about 18 months, is successful it could yield a 30 percent increase in efficiency, Wigent said, adding the Ohio JFS department is providing technical and financial assistance to get the project started.

Bowling Green State University will conduct an analysis to determine the project’s effectiveness.

“We’re excited about that,” Wigent said. “We’ve been guilty here in Wood County I think of not doing more with the university. We had a discussion with BGSU about statistics to gauge our production, efficiency, and quality control. The 30 percent gain is our target and we think we can reach that though a combination of switching to phone interviews, which take less time; becoming more efficient in how we handle documents, and having workers specialize more in certain areas of case processing.”

The food stamp program is growing much faster than other “income maintenance” programs, he said.

“That with the recession has been a huge growth area for us,” Wigent said. “At the same time we’re adding clients at a very rapid pace but getting less revenue from the state and feds to administer the programs. So that pinch of less resources with more work to do is what is driving us to operate absolutely as efficient as we can be.”

According to the Wood County JFS annual report for 2010, the county realized a monthly average of 13,313 food assistance recipients. That translated into an average of $630,183 in assistance each month.

There was an average of 8,216 Medicaid cases each month, costing about $7.5 million. In all, there were 26,198 recipients of Medicaid assistance that year.

Tim Brown, a Wood County commissioner, said the county expects a cost savings of more than $200,000 and all the participating counties could save more than $1 million through the collaboration effort.

The commissioners signed a memorandum of understanding to participate in the project this past June.

Much of the savings will be realized through attrition as personnel retire, Brown said.

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