DES Restructuring

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The Department of Economic Security plans to reinvent the safety net system. The changes will emphasize how DES can help its clients and also reduce their dependency. Arizona DES Director Clarence Carter will discuss the changes.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. State lawmakers will be hit with an automatic cut in pay this week as the legislative session drags on past the -day mark. Lawmakers get a $ per day per diem for expenses, and that'll be cut to $10 per day. Lawmakers from other counties will see their expense pay fall from $60 per day to $20 per day starting tomorrow. Last week Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter announced a pilot program to streamline the delivery of state welfare services and help get people off of assistance. Joining me now to talk about his plans to revamp DES is Director Clarence Carter. Thanks for joining us.

Clarence Carter: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: Reinvent Arizona safety system. What are we talking about here?

Clarence Carter: Ted, we're talking about currently the safety net is an aggregation of single-purpose programs. Each program addresses a singular aspect of the human condition. I don't know if it's the food stamp program or housing or on and on and on, the programs are designed to address one aspect of the human condition. They were not designed to work in conjunction and so it becomes difficult for an individual, and many of those that the safety net serves need multiples of those remedies. It becomes difficult to work those together to help increase that person's functioning and reduce their dependency. Our initiative here is about knitting together those programs, and then having the intention of not just delivering a benefit, good or service, but actually in the context help to grow the functioning of that person and ultimately reduce their dependency.

Ted Simons: We're talking 40 some-odd agencies, mostly working in silos. That's a lot of agencies, a lot of interaction. Is this an overview, a 30,000-foot-level kind of idea? What's going on here?

Clarence Carter: Of course it is driven by a 30,000-foot vision, but the work is to try to make this all practical. This is not something that we can only do from the state level, because most of these safety net programs are authorized by the federal government. And so we have both a state and a federal component of this work. Next week we will go to -- we'll go to Washington and lay out the case for this reinvention with the federal government.

Ted Simons: I want to talk about those federal waivers in a second here. First, back to the idea of working together, people-centric models.

Clarence Carter: That's right. Currently the way our system operates, we focus on the objective of the program, okay? We meet the mandate of whatever the program is. Our argument is that we ought to focus on the need of the individual, and bring the mandates of the program through the need of the individual. It ought to ultimately be our intention to help that person remediate this circumstance in their life, so that the safety net is only a mile marker in life's journey, not ultimately a destination.

Ted Simons: Is that remediation not going on now?

Clarence Carter: No, it's not. Again, the intention of the system, what we are currently held accountable for, if the delivery of the benefit, good or service, if I get you your SNAP or food stamp benefit, I have achieved success. There is no further look-back at what we do then to help you not need that benefit. So we are held accountable for the efficient and effective delivery of benefits, goods and services, not whether or not people get better for the delivery of those services.

Ted Simons: But some would question whether or not the Department of Economic Security should be involved in anything other than delivering these services. Is that not job one?

Clarence Carter: It is job one. But we believe there ought to be a complementary job with job one, and it shouldn't be job one only.

Ted Simons: How do you do that? If I get food stamps or other forms of assistance, I come to DES, I need for them to be delivered, and then what?

Clarence Carter: The first thing we do then is of course we determine whether or not you are eligible to receive the benefit, good or service. This approach has us doing a 360-degree environmental scan of you and your family to determine, why is it that you are in this circumstance. While we deliver the benefit, good or service, we also have a plan, a person-centered plan based on your circumstances, to grow your capacity to ultimately eliminate the need for you to have this benefit, good or service.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where, if I had been injured, if I had some health problems, if I had not worked in two or three years, you would look and say --

Clarence Carter: I would look at those and say, all of those elements are part of your environmental scan. We have to take into account all of those things, to help you figure out how to grow beyond this moment in your life.

Ted Simons: I've heard some criticism of this saying it's a good idea but really not new. The idea has always been to get folks off of assistance as best you can. But the process of delivery is so all-encompassing it's difficult to go to job 1-A, as opposed to making sure job one is done, which should help with remediation.

Clarence Carter: Ted, we don't believe that our approach is Orwellian. It's not a new idea. It is simply something that the safety net is not held accountable for doing. So we believe that all we need to do is to learn from and apply an awful lot of other principals and processes that exist, with the intention of growing people beyond the safety net.

Ted Simons: There is accountability here? Are there metrics involved?

Clarence Carter: Part of it is developing metrics. We need to develop a set of metrics by which we will measure the growth of our consumers. So we have -- Arizona State University is one of our partners, they are sort of our academic laboratory around this. So we will be developing those metrics. And then measuring our success against those metrics for how we're growing the capacity of people and reducing their dependency.

Ted Simons: When you announced the program, one of the quotes I thought was interesting, we pay for things that are quite frankly stupid. Explain.

Clarence Carter: Okay. So let me use one particular example, okay? I will take the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the SNAP program. We pay in the SNAP program for states to increase the number of people who are on the rolls. There's a rationale for that, and the rationale is that we want to make sure that everybody who needs the life-sustaining support around nutrition, that they are able to get that. But we actually pay to increase the SNAP rolls, while we don't commensurately pay to do anything to help people grow beyond that. And I could go through our contracting models and show you any number of things where we are -- we get what we pay for. But we are not asking for helping that individual to get better. We're just asking for the administration of that particular benefit, good or service.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, how difficult is it to shift the culture here?

Clarence Carter: This is a Herculean undertaking. I would -- I will tell you that in , President Reagan said the welfare system was debilitating to the individual, the heart, soul, mind, it was bad economics. That launched years of state demonstrations that ended up 16 years later in the 1996 Welfare Reform Initiative. So that was one federal program that literally took 16 years to ultimately reform. We don't believe that what we are engaged in here is something that's going to have to be done tomorrow afternoon. We believe that we are calling Arizona to the work, and we will create the demonstration laboratory that ultimately will result in reform.

Ted Simons: Talk about the demonstration laboratory, the project. How many people involved, how long will it take, what are you looking fo?

Clarence Carter: In our demonstration there will be a thousand in our control group and a thousand in our treatment group. We will use these metrics that we develop and look at, are we able to move the needle for the individuals that we serve, as opposed to the thousand that are in the control group.

Ted Simons: I still see, though, a person out there whose needle can't be moved. I just wondered, does the whole system become a failure if people aren't moving past dependency? What do you do for those who either don't, can't or won't move past that?

Clarence Carter: Well, first of all, we believe that we can increase everyone's functioning. Can we move everyone off the rolls? No, we cannot. There are individuals who are always going to need some degree of public support. But the idea that is we should be intentional about increasing the functioning of all that we can, so that we can -- we can reduce their dependency. We don't see this as a panacea, it's simply something vital to be added to the safety net. The Arizona safety net should be a trampoline, not a hammock.

Ted Simons: So with that is mind, what kind of impact will this have on your budget?

Clarence Carter: Ted, in the short term we don't see this having a budgetary impact at all. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we have all the money that we need. I'm going to say the same thing I've said when I've been with you about our child welfare system. I was not going to ask for more until I could make an evidence-based ask. That took a little while to do. But ultimately that wound up in the Governor's ask for significant CPS resources. Similarly, here, we're going to demonstrate this model within our existing budgetary constraints, and then we will come back at some other time, if we believe we need more resources.

Ted Simons: But there is a possibility of target moving here, if federal waivers are not -- that does become a variable here, doesn't it?

Clarence Carter: That's exactly correct. We aren't going to go to the federal government. There are waivers and work-arounds that this demonstration does from existing federal regulation and policy. So we're going to go to D.C., put together a federal policy team to assist us with those waivers.

Ted Simons: Last question. You mentioned that changing the culture was a Herculean task. Starting to flex the muscles a little bit?

Clarence Carter: Just a little bit. It's muscles flexed in terms of something that has to be done for socially and economically challenged Arizonans. It's not about me flexing my muscles, it's about Arizona flexing its muscles on behalf of those in need.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Clarence Carter: Ted, my pleasure, good to be here with you this afternoon.

Clarence Carter:DES Director, Arizona;

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