Report: Service quality drops amid public assistance push

San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/18/11 | Read the original article |

The county’s efforts to improve enrollment for public assistance has degraded service quality and work performance according to a survey of employees released Tuesday by the Center on Policy Initiatives and San Diego State University.

The report, based on a survey of 342 county employees and related data, describes a stressful work environment at family resource centers where residents apply for programs such as food stamps, temporary aid and other health-related initiatives.

Jill Esbenshade, a sociology professor who led the report, said county eligibility workers are “almost at the breaking point.”

“The focus of management is on quantity rather than quality, and no one is listening to suggestions from the workers who know the situation best,” said Esbenshade, who also sits on the board of the pro-labor think tank based in San Diego.

A statement provided by a county spokesman said the report reflects a “stunt by a labor organization — trying to pass itself off as some sort of think tank — to garner attention for labor related issues.”

The statement called the findings inaccurate and said the county’s results speak for themselves: CalWorks 85,190 has recipients, up 7.5 percent from last year. CalFresh, known formerly as food stamps, counts 124,449 child recipients, up 18.5 percent from last year. Its 8,280 senior recipients is an increase of 50.3 percent from last year, according to the county.

The county, which has retooled its eligibility system, introduced new technology and shifted the attention of caseworkers to a “task-based system.” Officials said the move to the task based system came as a recommendation from frontline employees, and creates an equal division of caseload.

But employees interviewed in March and April say the result has been delays, errors, an unmanageable workload and deteriorating service.

This is the second in a series of reports by CPI called “An Eye on San Diego County.” A report released last month said the county has amassed $2.2 billion in unspent reserves while restricting safety next services during the recession.

Executive Director Clare Crawford said the latest findings call into question whether the county is adequately providing resources to deliver the services to those who have fallen on hard times.