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HUMAN SERVICES HOPING OVERHAUL WILL ALLOW IT TO DO MORE WITH LESS

The Department of Human Services is geared up for an overhaul.

With expected block grants to deliver services, the state hopes to have a blank page upon which to write. And part of the process of creating a new system has involved looking at the way Utah does business today with a critical eye to spot what works, what doesn't and how to do things more efficiently and economically.Federal block grants will provide less operating capital than the department has been able to use in the past. As part of the budget reduction move in Washington, D.C., some programs and services will be eliminated, some will have spending caps imposed and some will have limits put on growth.

The result will be tighter economic times. But Gov. Mike Leavitt and department director Rod Betit believe that, even with less money, the state can do a better job - as long as the feds butt out when it comes to filling in the details.

On Aug. 9, each division in Human Services submitted an action plan designed to address needs pointed out by teams who came in from outside the programs to examine them. The teams reported on problems, strengths and areas of grave concern, and those are what the plans are designed to address.

Perhaps most affected by the block grants will be the Office of Family Support which, in its current incarnation, administers Aid to Families with Dependent Children, child care, jobs training, food stamps and Medicaid. Family Support staff predict that block grants will be frozen for five years at about 85 percent of today's funding level.

"This reduction in resources requires planning," says the report. "If we do not address this issue now, we may not be prepared for necessary statutory and program changes. We may not have enough time to design a well-thought-out employment program, rather than just patching the existing entitlement system. We need to change the system, not tinker with it."

The division offers several strategies, beginning with advanced planning, which is now under way. They're also anticipating major statutory and policy revisions to bring the state's practices into line with whatever the federal government does.

One of the biggest decisions with which the state will grapple is whether to restructure the system itself. One proposal would get rid of the Office of Family Support and some other programs and instead create a Department of Workforce Connections.

Such a department would focus totally on employment and training issues. Since the new emphasis in welfare reform is on work for benefits, it would seem to fit in well there.

Besides welfare programs, the new department might also oversee literacy and basic skills, unemployment insurance, job placement, programs for the unemployed and underemployed and child support and paternity establishments.

Another option is listed, too: Do nothing until Congress finishes its work, then set up a team to deal with whatever comes down from Capitol Hill.

That's less likely to occur, though, since Utah is already taking a serious look at what's expected and beginning to develop plans.

Two things have become a running theme in the planning process: collaboration and putting an end to duplicative services.

The state clearly will not be able to afford turf wars. In order to do more with less, management will have to be tightened, communication improved, programs and administrative tasks stream-lined and clear goals set.

The old boundaries just can't be allowed to exist.

The teams that examined different divisions shared one observation: While individual employees claim ownership of the divisions for which they work, they lack a sense of overall unity within the department.

They don't consider themselves Human Services staffers, but rather compartmentalize into Recovery Services workers or employees of the Division of Mental Health, for instance.

But the programs have too much in common, and there's too much overlap for that.

If those artificial walls are torn down and workers start reaching across division boundaries to work together, the services will be both seamless and wrap-around.