Public Defender System – Indiana

Indiana’s public defender system flawed, study says, By Fatima Hussein, October 24, 2016, Indianapolis Star: “The state’s public defender system is not only woefully underfunded, legal experts say, the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial is routinely violated in Indiana.  Lack of oversight of the public defense system, inconsistent funding and subpar representation contribute to the problems, the experts said…”

Cash Assistance and Work Requirements – Ohio

Ohio counties kick people off welfare to satisfy feds, By Josh Jarman, March 13, 2015, Columbus Dispatch: “Threatened with the loss of millions of dollars in federal money because not enough of its welfare recipients were working, Franklin County did what many other counties across the state did: It kicked people off welfare.  Instead of helping more of Franklin County’s poorest residents find jobs in the years following the Great Recession, the county slashed the unemployed from its welfare caseload. That raised the percentage of the remaining participants who were working.  And that’s the only benchmark the federal government requires counties to meet to keep getting money…”

Child Protective Services – Arizona

Strapped Arizona CPS poised to cut key services, By Mary K. Reinhart, December 13, 2012, Arizona Republic News: “Arizona’s child-welfare agency is cutting basic services to families and imposing new guidelines that could limit use of other programs in budget-cutting moves that could keep children in foster care longer, according to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic. Among the documents is a recent memo that blames the cuts in services on a projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfall at state Child Protective Services…”

TANF and SNAP Enrollment

Why are welfare rolls flat, while the food stamp program grows rapidly?, By Pamela M. Prah, July 2, 2012, Stateline: “The number of people receiving food stamps hit a record high during the recent recession and remains high. But that has not been the case for welfare. In some states, welfare participation rates have actually decreased over the past few years. Equally surprising is the fact that less than one-third of the federal and state money currently spent on welfare is actually given to people as cash assistance. The rest is spent on specialized services such as child care, child welfare and teen pregnancy counseling, but the government really doesn’t know how these funds are used and who benefits…”

Child Welfare System – Arizona

Arizona’s courts overloaded with CPS cases, By Mary K. Reinhart, May 26, 2012, Arizona Republic: “When the state of Arizona takes custody of a child because of suspected abuse or neglect, authorities ultimately have one goal: finding a safe, permanent home for the child. It’s up to the courts to decide whether to reunite children with parents or place them with relatives or an adoptive family, and experts agree it should happen as quickly as possible. The more time passes, the more likely the children will be traumatized by their experience with the child-welfare system. A recent increase in the number of foster children, with no corresponding rise in staff, has put mounting pressure on juvenile courts and made it more difficult to quickly resolve these cases. In Maricopa County, juvenile ‘dependency’ cases, in which judges determine when or whether a child can return home, have increased by nearly 40 percent during the past three years…”

Stateline.org Series on State Agency Backlogs

  • Short-staffed and budget-bare, overwhelmed state agencies are unable to keep up, By Melissa Maynard, December 13, 2011, Stateline.org: “On the face of it, the backlog the Hawaii Public Housing Authority is experiencing seems a simple matter of supply and demand. Some 11,000 families are on the authority’s waiting list, hoping against the odds that they can get one of only 6,295 public housing units. In a state where housing is notoriously expensive, the only people with a real shot at getting a unit are the homeless and survivors of domestic abuse. Even for them, the waiting can take years. ‘The waitlist is so extensive and the homeless problem is so great that a lot of people are getting preference over working families,’ explains Nicholas Birck, chief planner for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. ‘They never make it to the top.’ But there’s another, hidden problem at play in Hawaii’s housing backlog. Lately, the authority hasn’t had enough employees to manage turnover in vacant units. As a result, 310 homes have been sitting empty, even with all the people languishing in waitlist limbo. For many of the vacant units, all it would take is a few simple repairs and a little bit of administrative work to give a family a home – and get the authority’s backlog shrinking rather than growing…”
  • Anatomy of a backlog: How Vermont fell behind on adult protective services, By Melissa Maynard, December 14, 2011, Stateline.org: “Cerebral palsy does not thwart Chris Osborne’s passion for chess and all kinds of music, from hard rock to opera. But Chris, who is 25 and lives near Burlington, does depend on others to dress, feed and bathe him, as well as to clean and change his feeding tube. He can communicate only through a digital device or an eye-gaze board, which allows him to spell words by looking at the letters. Last year, Chris’ mother, Nancy Osborne, and her fiancé, Art Demarais, began to suspect that the professional caretaker living with Chris in his apartment had stopped doing key parts of his job. Sometimes, when Chris came home to visit, Nancy noticed that her son was caked in dirt and covered with rashes. Chris had made multiple trips to the emergency room to treat infections related to improper cleaning of his feeding tube. And he often complained of being hungry: Thin to begin with, Chris lost 23 pounds in six months…”
  • Overcoming a backlog: How Texas conquered a mountain of food stamps applications, By Melissa Maynard, December 15, 2011, Stateline.org: “Two years ago, the 316 offices in Texas where people go to sign up for food stamps were the very image of a government backlog. Long lines of frustrated people, many of them hungry, snaked through dingy spaces designed to handle much smaller crowds. The back offices weren’t much better. Desks of state employees were littered with piles of applications – in boxes under workers’ desks and stacked on top of them – that hadn’t yet been entered into the state’s computer systems. Texas was the worst state in the country at performing a straightforward task: giving food stamp applicants a yes or no within 30 days in normal cases and 7 days for emergency cases. That’s the standard set by the federal government, which oversees the state-run program. According to state data, at the height of the backlog in November 2009, Texas processed only 57.5 percent of new applications on time. In reality, the problem was much worse because stacks of pending applications weren’t properly being counted as part of the problem…”

Unemployment Benefits Payments – Oregon

Oregon overpays $392 million in unemployment benefits, fraud investigators swamped, By Richard Read, October 28, 2011, The Oregonian: “As unemployment insurance claims ballooned during the past few years, Oregon overpaid more than $392 million in benefits, a U.S. Labor Department analysis shows. That’s about 12 percent of almost $3.5 billion paid in benefits during the three years that ended in June. Some of the money went out the door innocently enough, paid before the Oregon Employment Department determined a recipient was ineligible for benefits. But other checks went to people who fraudulently collected unemployment without looking for work, or who found a job and continued claiming benefits. Either way, Oregon officials aim to recover the money, which originates from employers, not individual taxpayers. But they say fraud cases have swamped the Employment Department, where caseloads at one point reached 400 per investigator, up from 150 before the recession…”

General Assistance Program – California

Sacramento County’s neediest must wait weeks for aid, By Brad Branan, February 25, 2011, Sacramento Bee: “Sacramento County’s poorest residents are waiting longer to receive cash assistance because of a double whammy common to social service programs these days. The county has fewer caseworkers even as the need for services has increased. The county tries to finish applications for its General Assistance program within six weeks, or two weeks longer than it did a year ago, said Paul Lake, director of the Human Assistance Department. Applications are taking as long as two months to approve, he said. Advocates for the poor, however, say claims are taking two months to three months to complete. The county is hurting these people because they have no other money to survive, advocates say…”

Supple­mental Nutrition Assistance Program Enrollment

Food stamp rolls reach historic levels, By Pamela M. Prah, February 7, 2011, Stateline.org: “Dorene is a certified teacher in Idaho, but the only job she can find is as a teaching assistant, which pays under $11 an hour. That is considerably less than the $45,000 that the average teacher in Idaho earns annually. She asked that her full name not be used because her family doesn’t know she has been getting food stamp benefits for her two young children and herself for a year. ‘We live paycheck to paycheck,’ she says, even with child support. ‘I never thought I’d be in this situation.’ Nationwide, one in seven Americans currently receives help from the government to put food on the table. All but 14 states saw double-digit spikes in the number of people getting food stamps over the one-year period that ended in November 2010. But Idaho had the largest one-year increase in the country: 28 percent, according to the latest government figures…”

Cuts to Public Defenders Offices

Budget woes hit defense lawyers for the indigent, By Monica Davey, September 9, 2010, New York Times: “Some public defenders in Missouri say the stressed state budget is interfering with their ability to provide poor defendants with their constitutional right to a lawyer. They say they are so overworked and underfinanced that they have begun trying to reject new cases assigned to them late in the month, when, they say, their workloads are already beyond capacity. Concerns about a deteriorating, overwhelmed public defender system in this country have been around for decades, but they have ballooned recently as state budgets shrink and more defendants qualify for free legal counsel…”

Recession and Enrollment in Anti-Poverty Programs

  • Record number in government anti-poverty program, By Richard Wolf, August 30, 2010, USA Today: “Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand. More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That’s up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007. ‘Virtually every Medicaid director in the country would say that their current enrollment is the highest on record,’ says Vernon Smith of Health Management Associates, which surveys states for Kaiser Family Foundation. The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. ‘Private physicians are already indicating that they’re at their limit,’ says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers. More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years. Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits…”
  • As unemployed lose benefits, more seek welfare benefits, By James Osborne, August 30, 2010, Philadelphia Inquirer: “One morning in July, Lisa Carstarphen climbed out of her husband’s car and walked into the beige brick building that houses the offices of Camden County’s social services, wondering how at age 46 she ended up there. Two years ago, she was laid off from her $35,000-a-year job at Comcast. Now, with her unemployment benefits exhausted, she was broke. She stepped through the building’s glass doors into a crowded, fluorescent-lit room to wait her turn to sign up for welfare. As a child, she had accompanied her mother to the welfare office and swore she would never end up the same way. But here she was, surrounded by dejected faces, just as in her youth. Memories of nondescript jars of peanut butter and big blocks of government cheese came rushing back, and Carstarphen struggled to keep it together. ‘It was like going back in time. But I had no choice. My refrigerator was bare,’ she said. ‘For someone who has worked their whole life, it’s awful to ask for a handout. When my husband picked me up later, I busted out in tears.’ For the first two years of the recession, welfare caseloads followed the same steady decline of the decade and a half after President Bill Clinton’s transformation of welfare from a social-assistance program into what is essentially a job-training program for low-income families. But over the last six months, caseloads have begun to creep up, the product, experts say, of the continued sluggishness of the job market. Unemployed workers who have run out of unemployment benefits, like Carstarphen, are being pushed into the system…”

Public Defender Caseloads – Minnesota

Judge: Accused still need public defenders, but bill the state, By Madeleine Baran, August 18, 2010, Minnesota Public Radio: “Karen Duncan walked into an Owatonna court room Tuesday with a bold request. Duncan, the chief public defender for 11 counties in southeastern Minnesota, asked a judge to free her and her staff from 46 criminal cases she said they are simply too overworked to handle. It was the first such request from a public defense system that is straining statewide from staff and budget reductions. Judge Casey Christian denied Duncan’s request, saying that defendants have a constitutional right to representation. But he told Duncan she could hire private attorneys for those defendants and send the bill to the state…”

Application Process and Delivery of Benefits – Hawaii

  • Backlogs for aid may grow, By Mary Vorsino, May 6, 2010, Honolulu Advertiser: “The state has abandoned a controversial cost-cutting and modernization plan for benefits eligibility offices, a plan that included laying off 228 workers. But officials warned that without the changes, big backlogs for food stamps, cash aid and other applications will continue to grow. The state could also face federal penalties for failing to process applications in a timely way, Department of Human Services director Lillian Koller said yesterday…”
  • Override vote ends plan to close welfare offices, By Mark Niesse (AP), May 6, 2010, Honolulu Star Bulletin: “The state Department of Human Services has called off a plan to close all the state’s welfare eligibility offices and lay off 228 public employees. A law passed by the Legislature last week stopped the state from moving forward with the proposal to close the state’s 31 welfare locations and replace them with two new processing centers in Honolulu and Hilo, said Human Services Director Lillian Koller. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the law, but the Democrat-controlled Legislature’s override prevented welfare office closures on the neighbor islands and required public hearings before they could be consolidated on Oahu…”

Application Process and Delivery of Benefits – Michigan

Welfare caseloads rise, cause frustration, By Catherine Jun, April 5, 2010, Detroit News: “State welfare workers are juggling an astronomical number of requests for help, causing delays in emergency benefits to families and in some cases kicking them erroneously off welfare, according to state employees and welfare recipients. And in crowded welfare offices around the state, the frustration of families waiting for food, medical or cash assistance is reportedly boiling over, with threats and assaults against caseworkers. ‘They’re just frustrated with us. We can’t get their work processed fast enough,’ said Nancy Opatich, who works at the Michigan Department of Human Services office in Warren and who testified before a Michigan House subcommittee in the fall. Since 2001, the welfare assistance caseload in Michigan has dramatically swelled to 2.4 million cases, triple that of 2002, raising per-worker caseloads to 740 from 320…”

TANF Enrollment – Hawaii, West Virginia

  • Hawaii’s welfare numbers rising for first time in decade, By Mary Vorsino, December 27, 2009, Honolulu Advertiser: “For the first time in a decade, the number of Hawai’i families receiving state- or federally funded cash benefits is up from the year before as the economic crisis hits the state’s poorest in what advocates say illustrates the scope of need in the community. Advocates also worry more increases are still to come. This year, the average welfare caseload in the Islands increased by about 4 percent compared with 2008 – or by about 300 families. ‘This is the safety net,’ said Debbie Shimizu, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers-Hawai’i, adding, ‘This group is probably going to get bigger…'”
  • Welfare program for jobless on rise, By Sara Gavin, December 28, 2009, Charleston Daily Mail: “After declining steadily for the past decade, temporary welfare payments from the state to families who have exhausted all other benefits are on the rise again. WV WORKS, administered by the Department of Health and Human Resources, was restructured in 1997 to provide temporary assistance to families who have exhausted other benefit avenues. The program initially carried a caseload of nearly 38,000. It is part of the larger cash assistance program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. WV Works cases had been declining steadily over the past decade, bottoming out at about 9,000 statewide. But over the past 18 months officials have seen a steady uptick of about 1,800 additional cases, bringing the new total to almost 11,000 in West Virginia…”

State Government Delivery of Social Services – North Dakota

  • Agencies, governments to study who can best deliver social services, By Kevin Bonham, November 14, 2009, Grand Forks Herald: “The North Dakota County Commission Association wants the state to shoulder the responsibility – and a share of the financial burden – of delivering social services, such as federal Medicaid, food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families programs. The resolution, initiated by the nine-county Northeast North Dakota County Commission Association, asks the state Legislature to conduct an interim study of the proposal…”
  • Counties propose state delivery of social services, Associated Press, November 16, 2009, Jamestown Sun: “North Dakota county officials want the state to take over the delivery of social services programs, including federal Medicaid and food stamps, saying counties can no longer afford to do it. The North Dakota County Commission Association is seeking a two-year study of the idea starting in 2011, the year of the next legislative session. Its resolution says counties would contribute up to 15 mills of property taxes each…”

TANF and Immigrants – Nevada

More welfare going to parents here illegally, By Timothy Pratt, October 27, 2009, Las Vegas Sun: “Jose Silva had just obtained an appointment in three weeks to see whether his family would be eligible for monthly welfare benefits. ‘Now I just have to not eat until then,’ he joked, standing with his wife on the sidewalk outside the state office on Flamingo Road. Silva has been without a steady job for a year, one of tens of thousands of workers still reeling from the bottom dropping out of the Las Vegas Valley’s construction industry, the region’s second-largest employer after tourism. If approved for assistance, the Silvas will belong to the fastest-growing category of families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Bearing the confusing government label of ‘non-qualified non-citizens,’ this category refers to families with parents who are not U.S. citizens and children who are. Since the recession began in late 2007, the average monthly caseload of these families has grown 96 percent, according to state records. About 4,250 of these families of mixed immigration status were on the program’s rolls in September, making it the second-largest category in TANF, after single-parent households…”

Public Defender System – Missouri

  • Missouri public defender system faces ‘caseload crisis,’ study says, By Mark Morris, October 25, 3009, Kansas City Star: “Missouri’s public defender system is facing ‘an overwhelming caseload crisis’ that has pushed the state’s criminal justice system ‘to the brink of collapse,’ a new study reports. The study, released Friday, underscores a similar 2005 report and notes that little has improved. The public defender system represents poor defendants charged with more than 80 percent of the felonies filed in Missouri. Offices throughout the state regularly report that their lawyers are working well above 100 percent of their recommended maximum workloads. Earlier this year, Laura Denvir Stith, then chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, warned legislators that the state’s courts could be forced to release ‘vast numbers’ of inmates from jail because their public defenders could not get them to trial quick enough. She also warned that the state was vulnerable to lawsuits challenging the adequacy of its public defender system…”
  • Missouri Supreme Court must stanch public defender meltdown, Editorial, October 27, 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “A new study of Missouri’s public defender system – which provides lawyers for indigent defendants in criminal cases – says the system’s lawyers are so underpaid, overworked and badly supervised that they’re like the pilots of the commuter plane that crashed into a Buffalo, N.Y., suburb in February. As a result, says the Spangenberg Group, a judicial consulting firm, and George Mason University’s Center for Justice, Law and Society, Missouri’s criminal justice system ‘is heading for disaster, one which is both predictable and preventable.’ Missouri’s public defender system ‘stands at the bottom of its sister states in terms of resources,’ the report concludes, and ‘has reached a point where what it provides is often nothing more than the illusion of a lawyer.’ None of this is news, at least not to anyone familiar with the state’s criminal justice system. The Missouri Bar commissioned a similar study four years ago, and it reached similar conclusions…”

Funding for Legal Aid Offices – Iowa

Iowa’s legal aid offices feel pinch, By Grant Schulte, July 24, 2009, Des Moines Register: “Child support debts continued to mount for Ann Howser even after her former husband died and her 17-year-old son returned to her care. But the Des Moines woman could not afford the legal fees – probably $1,000 – to revise her divorce papers and cancel the required payments. So she turned to Iowa Legal Aid, a nonprofit group that helps low-income Iowans navigate the law…”

Public Defenders and Caseloads – Missouri

Governor vetoes bill on public defenders, By Chad Livengood, July 14, 2009, Springfield News-Leader: “Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday vetoed legislation that would have eased the burden on the state’s overworked public defenders.  Sen. Jack Goodman’s Senate Bill 37 would have allowed the state public defender system to establish caps on the number of cases each attorney can take on…”