Testimony of Jeff McCue, Commissioner
Department of Transitional Assistance
Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, House 1 Recommendation
Joint Hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means
Monday, March 27, 2017

Senator Eldridge, Representative Silvia, and distinguished members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, good morning/afternoon. My name is Jeff McCue and I am the Commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). Thank you for the opportunity to provide an overview of the DTA’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget.

DTA’s mission is to assist and empower low-income individuals and families to meet their basic needs, improve their quality of life, and achieve long-term economic self-sufficiency. To achieve these goals, DTA provides direct benefits and employment training and supports to assist families achieve food security and financial stability during trying times. Through these programs, DTA serves one in eight residents of the Commonwealth.

I am proud to represent the 1,650 employees of DTA, and am pleased to report that DTA operations have steadily improved over the last fiscal year. Documents are being processed timely and our case managers have fully addressed a backlog in our SNAP program; this feat ensures benefits are delivered to those who qualify without unnecessary delay. We continue our commitment to address any potential issue head on to ensure we maintain these positive gains for those who rely on our agency.

DTA is committed to promoting efficient operations and maintaining systems, policies, and communications that are straightforward, effective, and benefit those we serve, while maintaining the integrity of our programs. It is our staff that ensures these goals are met; which is why we have expanded our ombudsman’s unit to address case issues, developed specialized units to handle sensitive projects, and more evenly distributed our SNAP workload to strategically address essential work. To document this progress we have published a monthly DTA Scorecard on our website. Alongside the scorecard we have also begun posting caseloads by community. While our agency still has lofty goals, I am proud of the work we have done throughout the last fiscal year.

While the agency serves one in eight residents of the Commonwealth overall, one in nine receive SNAP benefits. That caseload level translates on a monthly basis to approximately:

  • 48,000 recertifications
  • 23,000 applications
  • 80,000 local office visits
  • 187,000 documents received & processed
  • 300,000 client calls
  • 200,000 case processing actions

 

Our staff works diligently to complete this essential work on behalf of those we serve; I could not be more proud of my team.

While working to stabilize our SNAP operations, DTA has also been focused on implementing the 2014 Welfare Reform Law, placing a renewed emphasis on our employment program to focus on comprehensive and innovative ways to engage and assist our clients moving towards financial stability and economic self-sufficiency.

DTA believes that to break the cycle of multi-generational poverty all clients can be assisted in moving to a better economic position and improved quality of life. To that end, DTA launched Pathways to Self-Sufficiency (PSS) to provide positive client engagement and targeted supports that lead to, a career pathway, employment, and ultimately long term economic self-sufficiency. PSS has only been in operation for approximately six months, but DTA’s front-line staff has expressed pride in this shift back to more meaningful client engagement.

At its core, this program is designed to reinforce early on that TAFDC is a transitional benefit and emphasizes the importance of working to secure economic self-sufficiency. DTA is focused on reinforcing this program through enhanced avenues of staff input, comprehensive continuous improvement measures, and a review of PSS-related client outcomes.

Building on our commitment to help those we serve break down barriers and gain meaningful employment, DTA has partnered with the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD) to implement the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA seeks to integrate states’ workforce systems to better serve both jobseekers and employers, and provides a unique opportunity to focus on low-income adults with limited training and skills as well as individuals with disabilities to access workforce development resources to overcome challenges and move toward economic self-sufficiency.

Central to WIOA is the Governor’s proposed Learn to Earn initiative. Learn to Earn partners EOHHS agencies with EOLWD and local workforce entities to generate new talent pipelines, create new credentialing pathways for unemployed and under-employed individuals, and serve populations with historically higher than average rates of unemployment.

I am proud of DTA’s progress and want to recognize the employees of the agency for their hard work; I am excited to build on this success over the course of FY18.

The Baker-Polito FY18 budget recommendation makes strategic investments to stabilize the working poor across the state, limit the cliff effect felt by low income workers, and balance DTA’s program integrity efforts with program access goals. The House 1 proposal also ensures that the resources of the Commonwealth are used efficiently and thoughtfully to protect these vital benefits for those who truly need them.

Programs

While administered by DTA, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is 100% federally funded and regulated. The state is responsible for 50% of the costs to administer the program. SNAP benefits help families supplement their food budgets to afford nutritious food. In FY17, DTA projects to administer nearly $1.18 billion in SNAP benefits to an average of nearly 450,000 households monthly.

Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) is a state and federally-funded program that provides cash assistance to families with children, and certain pregnant women. As part of TAFDC, participants may be required to perform a work-related activity in order to receive benefits. TAFDC supports approximately 32,000 households monthly; approximately 30% of recipients are enrolled in some type of employment related activity.  

Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) is a state-funded program, which provides cash assistance to mostly elderly and disabled persons, as well as some children. Those eligible for EAEDC include people over 65, individuals unable to work due to a physical or mental incapacity, and individuals participating in a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission program. EAEDC supports approximately 21,000 households monthly.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a federal program that provides cash assistance to the elderly, disabled, and blind. Massachusetts provides state-funded payments designed to supplement these federal benefits. DTA funds State Supplemental Payments (SSP) to elderly, disabled, and blind recipients. SSP supports approximately 201,000 households monthly.  

DTA has a responsibility to ensure the integrity of the programs we administer, so benefits are available for those who rely on the services we provide. Our commitment to program integrity remains steadfast. Since 2013, DTA has blocked the ATM/POS systems at locations where it is prohibited to use cash assistance. Through this effort, DTA has reviewed more than 18 million transactions at over 12,000 locations and blocked over 1,800 ATM/POS systems.

Additionally, DTA is committed to combatting SNAP trafficking through our partnership with local law enforcement. Since signing an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), DTA has partnered with 112 local law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth to investigate and stop SNAP trafficking in our cities and towns. DTA provides data analytics, research, and other resources to our police partners to aid their investigations of retailers potentially trafficking SNAP benefits. DTA’s work on enhanced data matching, as well as our partnerships with sister agencies are also essential to our underlying mission.

DTA Fiscal Year 2018 (House 1) Proposal Overview

The Governor’s FY18 budget includes $617.6 million in funding for DTA. It is important to note that of this total, $452.4 million, or 73% of the budget, is provided for TAFDC, EAEDC, and SSP benefits. While DTA’s overall budget does see a decrease of $36.8 million from current FY17 funding levels, this is due to the continued decline of the TAFDC caseload and the projected net savings in the TAFDC program resulting from a proposed change to how other income is treated in determining grant levels. This budget preserves the benefits to meet the basic needs of thousands of families and individuals across the Commonwealth.

Funding for DTA’s administrative accounts is maintained at FY17 levels. In order to effectively serve our clients, DTA needs appropriate staffing levels. House 1 provides $71.4 million for our caseworker account and $3.1 million in our SNAP Administration account.

The recommended funding for the Employment Services Program (ESP) provides DTA with $14.6 million to provide employment and training slots for 2,800 clients. Additionally, it is important to note that the Governor’s budget proposal combines the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency line-item with the ESP line-item to align our workforce efforts.

Additionally, this year the Secure Jobs program previously administered by DHCD will now be administered by DTA. Now known as Secure Jobs Connect, line-item 4400-1020 provides $800,000 to provide job training and job search services for homeless and previously homeless families. The responsibility to determine eligibility and provide housing stabilization and rental assistance supports remains a function of DHCD.

House one is a fiscally responsible proposal that supports DTA’s mission, allows for continued enhancements in program integrity, maintains operational efficiencies, and facilitates implementation of legislative mandates.

The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to helping the working poor overcome barriers to economic self-sufficiency by gaining the skills and education needed to find and keep employment. Over the past year DTA has enhanced programs to ensure those receiving assistance are able to move from dependency on DTA benefits to economic independence. DTA is eager to continue exploring new ideas and program structures that allow a greater number of individuals and families to shed the safety net of government assistance and find a route out of poverty.

Realigning Cash Assistance Caseloads

Welfare reform in 2014 created a special cash assistance case manager category known as Self-Sufficiency Specialist (SSS). These individuals began their role at DTA in December 2015.

Between April and June 2016, DTA conducted an assessment of how the role was functioning and identified ways to strengthen and clarify the SSS role. While many positive findings resulted from this assessment, there remained issues regarding legislatively mandated caseload caps for these workers. This assessment also concluded that placing limits on caseloads restricts the agency’s ability to best utilize and shift resources as policy and circumstances demand.

The rollout of Pathways to Self Sufficiency made it clear that this caseload cap had an adverse impact on DTA’s ability to manage resources and move all clients toward self-sufficiency. The Governor’s budget removes this cap, acknowledging the need for  all case managers to gain the skills needed to promote self-sufficiency, and ensures that all case managers are allowed the time to engage with clients with barriers to employment. Limiting some case manager’s caseloads results in increased caseloads for other case manager’s. Ensuring all case managers have manageable caseloads is critical, and DTA needs the discretion to make the appropriate decisions regarding what a manageable caseload means.

Including SSI Recipients in the TAFDC Grant and Counting the Adult SSI Income

Many TAFDC families in Massachusetts also receive income from other sources including Veteran’s benefits, Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI) benefits and SSI. All of these offset the grant amount with the exception of SSI. This means that we are not treating all TAFDC clients the same with respect to counting income.

The budget includes an initiative to even the playing field amongst all TAFDC clients by treating adult SSI income the same as any other unearned income source. While it will result in a number of families with SSI income either losing their TAFDC benefits (approximately 4,400) or experiencing a reduction in those benefits (approximately 1,400), it will also allow a number of SSI recipients (approximately 2,800) to begin receiving TAFDC. The reductions in TAFDC benefits will be partially offset for many of these families by an increase in the state supplement to SSI (SSP) (approximately 1,900) and SNAP (approximately 5,350), and a decrease in rent for those in public or subsidized housing (approximately 5,200). This change will allow adult SSI recipients to access education and supportive services, which is something they have been excluded from to date. Children who become members of the TAFDC household as a result of this change will not have their SSI income counted. It is our belief that this change is a positive step towards moving certain SSI recipients to economic self-sufficiency.

Transitional Support Services (TSS) for Newly Employed TAFDC Clients

In the FY17 budget, the Governor proposed providing newly employed TAFDC clients who lose cash assistance due to earnings with temporary transitional supports to lessen the cliff effect. Thank you for supporting this initiative last year.

The FY18 budget proposes to continue these supports as a way to assist clients as they transition into employment and off of benefits. The Governor’s funding level supports:

  • A time-limited, phased down transitional employment expense stipend provided to former clients who no longer qualify for TAFDC due to job earnings.
  • A time-limited, phased down transportation benefit for former clients who no longer qualify for TAFDC due to job earnings.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my testimony regarding DTA’s proposed FY18 budget. Your support is critical to ensuring DTA has the resources to serve the many families and individuals who rely on the benefits and programs we offer. I’d be happy to take any questions you may have now, and also follow up with your office at a later date.