Department of Social Services promised changes to phone systems - CBS 5 - KPHO

I-Team Investigation

Department of Social Services promised changes to phone systems

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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

Outdated phone systems at the Connecticut Department of Social Services mean that people who rely on state assistance may lose their benefits and not even be able to find out why.

About 750,000 people in Connecticut get some sort of benefits from the Department of Social Services whether its food assistance, healthcare or something else.

An Eyewitness News I-Team investigation into the Department of Social Services began earlier this year after WFSB heard that its phone system was a nightmare and people were losing benefits and couldn't even find out why.

"I tried calling the social worker, and called and called and called. I called at least 50 times and I didn't get anyone," said Jane Perry told Eyewitness News in May. "So I called 3 On Your Side."

The investigation began in May after 10 viewers contacted Eyewitness News about having problems reaching the Department of Social Services for information on their disability benefits or food stamp assistance.  

Eyewitness News was told in May that the problems were caused the agency was understaffed, swamped with requests for help and using an antiquated computer system, according to Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby. He also told Eyewitness News that there would be upgrades and modernizations. 

"We know that people are frustrated, but we are definitely focusing on it and we'll do everything we can to get up to speed," Bremby said.

People who rely on the Department of Social Services were relived.

"Now I won't have to worry about how am I going to pay off this bill and how am I going to do that," said Linda Antink told Eyewitness News in May. "You helped very much and I am happy."

The Department of Social Services promised changes to the system, but when Eyewitness News checked back later in the year, things didn't look any better.

About four months after Eyewitness News looked into the Department of Social Services, Antink contacted the station again and stated she was having similar problems as before.

Antink received a notice asking her to prove she still deserved the benefits, which is a standard part of the process called redetermination. The Department of Social Services wants to prove that people deserve the money that they are receiving.

Antink told Eyewitness News that she sent in everything the state requested and never heard a word. Until Antink got a letter, which was dated Oct. 29, from Department of Social Services, which stated her medical benefits were being cut off on Oct. 31 because she never sent in the documentation they asked for.

Besides her benefits being cut off in two days, the letter showed up in the mail on Nov. 2, which is two days after the benefits were stopped.

Panicked, Antink spent hours and hours calling trying to find out what was going on and what happened to all the documentation she'd sent weeks before.

"Trying to get through to them is impossible," she said. "They're doing the same thing, even though they said they would fix it, it's not fixed."

During Face the State, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services explained the delay. 

"The problems exist today because we launched a modernization initiative last November. The project is an 18-month project," Bremby said. "What we are going to do is change out 12 antiquated telephone systems."

Bremby said that change will allow his agency to better handle 890,000 phone calls, which he said the Department of Social Services receives each day. And he said until the change is completed, the phones will go down regularly, which means the Department of Social Services customers have no choice but to expect poor communication.

"We're now trying to play catch-up, but we can say that some of those solutions are coming to the forefront real soon," Bremby said.

Eyewitness News heard from dozens and dozens of Department of Social Services clients who reported similar horror stories. The 18-month project has six months to go until it is completed.

Copyright 2012 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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