From 2011 to 2019, the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS), under the direction of Roderick Bremby, managed to transform its $570 million food stamp program from one of the worst in the nation to one of the best. Having achieved such a remarkable turnaround, observers wondered what else the DSS might do to further deliver on its mission of "providing person-centered programs and services to enhance the well-being of individuals, families and communities."
Connecticut's food stamp program became overwhelmed when applications for assistance surged in the wake of the 2008 recession. At the same time, reduced state revenues forced cuts in the number of employees to process the paperwork. Bremby took over a demoralized program with antiquated technology, siloed staff and inefficient work flow. Over the next eight years, the department took a number of steps to improve the speed and accuracy of issuing benefits. The incremental moves improved matters fitfully, but Bremby and his staff persisted. In 2018, Connecticut SNAP was recognized by Washington as best in class. Federal officials awarded the state several million dollars in bonuses for the remarkable improvement.
Yet workers in Connecticut's social services agency were ambivalent about the changes. To a person, workers were pleased that they no longer faced mountains of unprocessed claims on their desks and hours of unreturned telephone messages on their answering machines. Nonetheless, many wondered if a vital human touch had been lost. They believed they had fewer opportunities to use their social work skills to safeguard clients’ welfare and build bridges to better lives. While employees were proud the Connecticut SNAP had embraced a more efficient business model, they worried that the DSS had become more like an airline reservation system than a social service agency.
In 2019, Bremby left state government for the private sector, providing a moment to wonder how SNAP's gains in efficiency translated to gains in effectiveness in alleviating the burdens of poverty. Having made improvements on the metrics that mattered to the federal government, could the DSS leverage its success with the SNAP program to improve the lives of recipients in other ways? Were there other avenues of service delivery the department could pursue?
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Suggested Citation: Gwen Kinkead and Teresa Chahine, "Connecticut SNAP 2019," Yale Case 20-037, September 15, 2020.