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Computer woes delay requests for DSS aid

July 21, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Recent computer problems required some new applicants for welfare, food stamps and medical assistance to wait a few days longer for benefits, said Washington County Department of Social Services Director David Engle.

The computer system is back on track and Engle doesn't anticipate future delays.

The North Potomac Street agency uses a computer system linked to a statewide network to process applications for welfare, food stamps and medical assistance, he said.

About the middle of June, the county's computer system began crashing frequently, said Vashti Savage, executive director for the office of information management in the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

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The software problem proved difficult to diagnose but was eventually traced and fixed on June 25. Shortly after that, Savage's department replaced computer hardware in the office.

"It has been quite an aggravation for us and our clients. It couldn't have come at a worse time," Engle said.

The computer glitch coincided with the agency's busiest time of the month, nearly causing clients to lose their benefits, he said.

Once a month, the agency reviews one-sixth of its clients to make sure they are still eligible for benefits.

If those clients' computer files are not updated by the last day of the month, benefits are automatically cut off, he said.

Staff members prevented that from happening, he said, but some applications for new benefits had to be deferred until the computer problems were solved. The cases were prioritized so clients needed emergency help got served first.

On July 11, an unrelated telephone problem disrupted the system again, Savage said.

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