Despite Past DWS Success There is Always Room for Improvement
During the recession, the Eligibility Services Division (ESD) of the Department of Workforce Services reduced its cost per case by approximately 37% and returned millions to the general fund while also improving quality and absorbing a nearly 60% increase in caseloads. Despite these improvements, ESD continues to meet the challenge to improve services. Collaborating with GOMB, a team of experts dubbed the “FAST Team” started working to set a new reliability standard and to continue to improve quality while reducing costs. The results are shown in the two charts that follow. These strategies are especially impressive based on the fact that for the current fiscal year ESD reduced costs by approximately $1.5 million and will absorb another $5.6 million reduction to the eligibility services line item in FY 2016.
The Eligibility Services Division is responsible for administering the state’s public assistance programs. Despite the fact that the division serves thousands of households, receives 120,000 calls per month, and processes 20,000 – 25,000 new applications monthly, constituents and stakeholders alike expect the program to be administered timely and accurately.
The redefinition of quality, or the “Q” in QT/OE, was changed from a staff member’s individual programmatic quality outputs to the percentage of applications approved within 14 days of receipt. Throughput or “T” is the number of decisions made on public assistance programs that depends solely on the demand for public assistance. With this in mind, ESD’s focus is to make improvements to the reliability standard, control operational expenses, and a shift to using staff program accuracy as a necessary condition of the work process.
From 23 Days to Just 2
Utilizing the FAST diagram of the SUCCESS Framework to analyze current and desired conditions, ESD identified four strategies to process applications faster, reduce rework, reduce backlog and reduce the number of status calls as a result of the backlog. One of the four strategies was to increase the number of applications processed that did not require a request for information (verifications) from customers. By making a small technical change to flag potential “one and done” applications (approximately 25% of new food stamp and/or family Medicaid applications) eligibility specialists are alerted that the application has the potential to be approved same-day. The simple change reduces cycle time on these applications from 23 days to 2.
Four Strategies in Two Phases
In addition, ESD has been implementing changes in each of the four strategies in eight-week sprints and have divided the strategies into two phases. To date, three eight-week timelines and all activities in Phase I have been completed. The resulting improvements in the reliability standard for overall average days to decision are impressive. Additional improvements include drastically improved call wait times dropping from over 10 minutes to under 4, accuracy maintained at 93%, an increase in the number of answered calls, and reduced backlogs, just to name a few. As a side benefit, ESD has realized a savings in postage costs estimated at approximately $700,000 for the current fiscal year and, due to a decrease in long-distance call wait times, savings estimated at approximately $850,000 for the current fiscal year.
Good Work, ESD Team!
Kudos go out to Ben Mortensen, Chris Williams, Kris Dew, Muris Prses, and Gerald Gappmayer (the FAST Team) for leading the way. Even though ESD is very pleased with results thus far, in true DWS form, they are moving to Phase II with a focus on electronic verifications as they continue working to offer even better service to Utah’s constituents.