Through a directive from Gov. Chris Christie, staff from the state Department of Human Services has been sent to assist the Ocean County Board of Social Services following complaints of delays in service to clients.
The directive comes after conversations Christie had with constituents on air on 101.5’s Ask the Governor, concerning issues with delays in service at the county agency.
Last week, Christie spoke to single mom Kim from Jackson Township on air about her concerns when trying to get help after losing her home, injuring herself and having no food. She told the governor that this was first time she was seeking public assistance.
“And it’s so, I don’t know if corrupt is the right word, you get nothing but the runaround. They’re rude and you don’t get the help that you need. People fall through the cracks when there’s help there for you and they’re just not there,” the woman said in a transcript of the conversation provided Tuesday by Christie’s press office.
Christie told the woman that he knew about her case and that she was absolutely right.
“It’s one of the ones that my staff wrote to me about because we are having real problems in Ocean County with social services. And I spoke last month with the commissioner of Human Services, who is not a direct supervisor of these programs but interacts with the counties, she acknowledged that there is a backlog in Ocean County that is significant and that needs to get fixed,” Christie told the woman during the show.
Christie told the woman that the state is going to stay on Ocean County regarding the backlog in their social services cases.
“I want a report next week about what the hell is going on in Ocean County. It’s unacceptable and we talked about it last month and obviously it’s not fixed and we need to get it fixed,” Christie said about DHS Commissioner Jennifer Velez.
In August, another man, Chris, of Toms River, called into the same show and told Christie that his son who had lost his job went to apply for benefits and was told that his application was delayed because the office was three months behind on paperwork.
“No, no, no. That’s unacceptable. Jennifer Velez — Commissioner Velez of Human Services — if you are out there, I need you to please tell (us) that it’s not true that we are three months behind on our paperwork in processing this stuff and making people wait. I can’t believe that’s true,” Christie said during the show in August after hearing the man’s story.
DHS spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie wrote in an email Tuesday that recently, Ocean County’s welfare agency has had some difficulty with the timely processing of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other entitlement program applications.
The DHS Division of Family Development has sent trained staff members to the Lakewood and Toms River locations to provide technical and hands-on assistance to county staff in reducing the volume of pending applications, Brossoie wrote. Staff was deployed following consultation with Christie’s office with plans to work with the county to address constituent concerns.
Brossoie wrote that DHS has received complaints about services at the county Board of Social Services.
Since the staff has been in the county offices, they have assisted Ocean County in redesigning its case processing methodology, Brossoie said.
Brossoie said the team of state staffers was deployed to Ocean County with two people in the Stafford Township office and five others in the Lakewood Township office. Since then, there have been either two or three people in the Lakewood office or one person in the agency’s Toms River office. On Sept. 17, another supervisor and her staff of five were assigned to Lakewood, Brossoie said.
DHS will stay in Ocean County until its offices are in brought up to date and also work with the county to develop a long-term plan to address its operational needs so that they can continue to be responsive to clients, she said.
Nancy Faulkner, assistant administrative supervisor of the Ocean County Board of Social Services, said the reason for the backlog in the office is an increase in applications, changes in eligibility standards and staff retirements that have impacted their ability to maintain the caseload.
It is not unusual for the state to send two people to help review and process recertification application of people reapplying for benefits, Faulkner said.
“We seem to have so many because caseloads have increased so drastically. Since 2009, the food stamp case load has increased by 100 percent, and that increase is pretty much across the board in service increases,” she said.
The office has received complaints from clients as a result of the backlog and they respond and address the complaints as quickly as possible, she said.
Regulations require that the office process applications within 30 days but that wasn’t happening, she said.
“We have made tremendous progress since the beginning of the year. We’re doing the best we can to stay within regulations. Out waiting rooms are filled every day,” she said.
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