An open house Wednesday afternoon at a new Central Region job and welfare eligibility service center made it official: The Utah Department of Workforce Services is one step closer in its goal to be a completely "no-stop," paperless agency.
The center works with people who need such things as temporary assistance for needy families, food stamps, child care and Medicaid, Central Region Council on Workforce Services chairman Arthur Benjamin said.
The new center in Murray has been taking telephone calls, faxes and mail since it began moving employees from the old downtown center May 25. The 120-member staff — a combination of the workers from a number of old centers throughout Salt Lake and Tooele counties — has now completely arrived at the new center, which prides itself on its state-of-the-art technology that allows calls to be taken much more quickly and efficiently than they could in the past, said employment supervisor Dale Ownby.
"Requalifying in person could take half a day from their job, require transportation and child-care arrangements," Benjamin said. "This (new) system
requires just a five- or six-minute phone call. Our employers don't have to arrange for the time off and our customers have a better chance of staying employed."
That new system is the result of a three-year pilot program that many other states are now trying to imitate, Benjamin said.
Utah was the first state to change all its centers to a one-stop (or, in cases like the new center, no-stop) format, "although many other states are trying to catch up," department executive director Robert Gross said.
The original idea was a statewide call center where center customers could call and get the information and help they needed, Ownby said. But differences among the various regions across the state led the department to settle on regional centers.
Ownby said the remote site allows customers to call, fax or send mail "at their own leisure," and computer imaging technology allows anything mailed or faxed to be instantly scanned into a computer. The images are then attached to a customer's records and are accessible anytime a customer calls.
"We're trying to get away from the paperwork nightmare," Ownby said.
He said somewhere between 16 and 35 staff members work the telephones at any given time, taking calls from customers who enter their case numbers on a touch-tone dial pad. Before a staff member even answers the phone, the customer's information has popped up on a computer screen, complete with imaged bank statements and other correspondence.
In the past, if a customer wanted to know whether the center had received something that had been sent by mail or fax, the staff member would have to search through boxes of paperwork, Ownby said. Now it's available at little more than a double-click on a computer mouse.
The new center, which is looking into ways to allow customers to correspond via e-mail as well, eliminates the necessity of periodic visits for recertification, Benjamin said.
Initial application processes still require an in-person visit to one of five employment centers, as federal law necessitates, Benjamin said. The eligibility service center, however, is not set up to accommodate in-person visits, Ownby said, and all the work done there is done via phone, fax or mail.
Gov. Mike Leavitt's spokeswoman Vicki Varela said the governor's office is impressed with the innovative ways the department is growing and improving.