Petition to Improve Customer Service at the PA Department of Human Services

In October 2013, we began a campaign to improve customer service at the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), renamed the Department of Human Services (DHS) in November 2014.

The campaign arose out of our experience helping thousands of food stamp and other benefit program clients over the years – the elderly, the disabled, and the working poor. They typically call us after getting lost in the state’s complex food stamp benefits bureaucracy and/or being unfairly denied benefits.

Research has found that these difficult experiences are indeed systemic, presenting chronic and often insurmountable barriers due to the state’s underfunding and understaffing of benefits administration, and due to policies that simply don’t make sense.

This is simply unacceptable. People pay tax dollars in part so that when they and their neighbors fall on hard times there are support programs in place to help them. Any unnecessary barriers that prevent them from getting the help they need must be removed.

Our campaign has made progress but there is still much to be done to make the Department of Human Services worthy of its name.

Dear Secretary of the Department of Human Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,

Pennsylvania currently ranks as one of the worst states in the nation for slow food-stamp processing rates. For this reason, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which administers the SNAP/food stamp program, has required the state to take corrective action. Having encountered poor customer service at the former Department of Public Welfare, and/or having learned from Just Harvest’s research that such problems are systemic, we support the following demands to improve the treatment of Pennsylvania residents seeking assistance from DHS and to address chronic problems in administering food stamp, cash assistance, and other public benefit programs in a timely, efficient, and respectful manner.

List of Demands:

  1. Revamp the Department of Public Welfare’s phone system
    • Stop all dropped calls at the Change Center
    • Stop dropped calls and disconnects at the county assistance offices
    • Put functioning phone numbers that are answered by human beings on all notices
  2. Increase voice mail capacity on caseworkers’ phones
  3. Send out computer generated notices to consumers to confirm their verification documents have been received and alert them to what documents are still needed
  4. When consumers deliver documents in person at a CAO, staff should scan verification documents on site immediately and give receipt to consumers
  5. Caseworkers must treat all consumers with dignity and respect
    • Consumers should have access to service surveys and Just Harvest and the public should have access to those survey results
  6. Data should be transparent
    • The numbers of dropped calls, hold times, voice mail full frequency and lost verification documents should be reported regularly to the public
  7. The Secretary should include substantially increased staffing of CAOs in DHS’s departmental budget request
    • Fight for inclusion in the Governor’s proposed budget for 2015-16

The stated mission of DHS is “to improve the quality of life for Pennsylvania’s individuals and families.” Low-income families do not deserve to be treated so poorly by the tax-payer funded entities whose job it is to help them. Doing so undermines that mission. We look forward to your support and leadership in implementing the above corrections and improvements.