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Simplifying Our Work
I hope that all of you had a wonderful summer and were able to get time away with loved ones. I was fortunate to travel our beautiful state with my family while also visiting nine of our field offices.
On those visits, I asked veteran staff: “Is your work getting easier or harder?”
The answer was usually the same: Harder.
Caseloads are up while staffing is flat. Technology is creating problems. The amount of policy we need to follow has grown.
I’m writing to share our steps to turn around the trend. All of these steps flow out of our values. Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity. That is true for the public we serve, and it is true for you as our staff. One way we honor human dignity is to simplify processes that cause needless frustration, block us from doing our best work, and stop residents from accessing benefits they need. Another way we honor human dignity is to trust – not blindly, but more often: to trust you to do well by Michigan’s families, and to trust families to do right by the people they love.
Here are the actions aligned with these values that we’re taking in five key areas:
We have no greater assets than our staff – and you have no greater headaches than our technology. The press focuses on our budget challenges, but I focus equally on our challenges in service delivery.
We’re making improvements. We have a dedicated user-centered design team to improve the Universal Caseload system. We’re overhauling MiSACWIS to be simpler and more user-friendly. We’re adopting an “Agile” approach to technology development that prioritizes direct user feedback. And we’re prioritizing the needs of field staff in our annual IT funding prioritization process.
I wish the progress were faster. But we are holding ourselves – and our vendors – accountable. For Bridges users, we expect noticeable changes to the system (e.g., error rates, usability) in the near term.
I want to empower you to do the work that brought you into government. That work was not completing travel reimbursement forms. I’ve done my own reimbursements, and the process must improve.
Led by the Bureau of Finance & Accounting’s travel team, we’ve created a cross-agency working group on travel. You’ve seen some recent improvements, like sharing explanations for rejections in SIGMA. Now we’re making two further changes. The first is to eliminate the requirement that out-of-state travel authorizations (TRAUTHs) be approved in SIGMA, except for travel advances. The second is to cut travel reimbursement audits by 60 percent. Both these changes should save you time.
I want to drill down on the audit change. While you should still save all your receipts, the number of times you will need to produce them will go down significantly. This will free up more time for your work. We are trusting that staff will seek only appropriate reimbursements.
Skeptics will say that reduced audits mean increased abuses. If that’s what happens, we’ll need to pull back the policy. Let’s prove the skeptics wrong.
There’s still more we need to do to improve the travel process. Improve it we will.
We are streamlining the entire benefits delivery process. During the last administration, MDHHS took a wonderful first step with the non-profit organization Civilla, cutting the benefits application by more than half. That effort achieved a great result because it used a great process, one centered in the experiences of our staff and our clients each day. The next phase of that work with Civilla, to simplify the renewal form, has completed the pilot phase and is preparing for statewide rollout. Most exciting for me, we are planning a third step in our Civilla partnership, one that aims to examine all of our processes and shorten the period for making benefits determinations to just one day. I would say it is overly audacious, but with their team and ours, I know we will achieve great things.
While the work with Civilla takes time, we are also making immediate policy modifications to improve benefits delivery. An example was the change in the asset test for State Emergency Relief from $50 to $500. We will have more to say about both the Civilla partnership and near-term policy changes very soon.
For those of you who operate within Universal Caseload, I know there continues to be a range of opinions – and a lot of dissatisfaction. We are glad to have worked together to address the backlogs of last winter. Recent releases have made incremental improvements, with more coming throughout the fall expected to have more dramatic impacts. In addition, the leadership team will be doing a full review to ask ourselves honestly if we are doing enough to address the challenges that UCL has created.
The modified consent agreement has enabled us to shift resources out of compliance activities and into active efforts to improve outcomes for families. But there’s more we must do—and are doing—to simplify processes for caseworkers. We have eliminated some requirements for collateral contacts and unnecessary medical exams, for example. We’ve reduced the number of questions that need to be asked of adults. And we’ve reduced requirements for in-person interviews. That’s just so far. We have several further changes in the pipeline for September, for both CPS and foster care staff. We believe simplifying processes like this will make the work easier and allow staff to focus on what matters most – the families that depend on us.
Healthy Michigan Plan
The Medical Services Administration is working night and day for an effective implementation of the HMP work requirements. Key to our strategy is communicating with the public in easy-to-understand terms. That is a major challenge with a complicated law. But we have worked hard to make our correspondence simpler and more direct – using bright colors, vivid symbols and clear language, developed based on principles of behavioral science, and following extensive user testing. By sending clear messages to the public about what they need to do, we will reduce confusion in our offices later on – and, even more important, help more Michiganders keep their health insurance.
More to come!
These are just some of the changes we’re making to simplify our work. There’s a lot more to come, including the results of our Simple Gifts contest.
Expect to see me in the community more as I build relationships around our state. This is an exciting time of change in our department. The work that we do improves the lives of hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents every day. Each of you is a partner in this noble endeavor, and I am proud to work alongside you.