In the winter of 2011, Roderick Bremby arrived in Connecticut to rescue its social services. Two months earlier, federal officials had advised the new administration of Governor Dannel Malloy that Connecticut’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called food stamps) was among the worst in the country. Without a “tremendous turnaround,” they warned, Connecticut would be hit with millions in federal fines.
The bad news sent shock waves through the Malloy administration but to the Department of Social Services (DSS), it was old news. Connecticut’s SNAP program had been falling behind since 2008, when the number of households receiving food assistance had doubled and the number of Department of Social Services employees to certify and issue those benefits had shrunk by about eight percent. SNAP was overwhelmed, case processing delays were growing, and morale was in the tank.
SNAP is a federal program administered by the states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides all the funds that states give their hungry and in turn, it monitors each state’s performance. By all four measures the federal government used to track states' administration of their food assistance programs, Connecticut was failing:
With federal officials pressing for a turnaround plan, Governor Malloy recruited Bremby a former state official from Kansas. While Bremby was a noted systems expert, turning around the mess in Connecticut’s Department of Social Services was a big challenge. At $5.5 billion, Connecticut's DSS 2011 budget was twenty-one times the size of the department he’d run in Kansas. The sprawling department served 750,000 people, primarily for Medicaid and Medicare. Staffers spent about a third of their time on SNAP, overseeing some 336,064 residents who received food assistance.
Faced with this daunting task, Bremby considered his options. At the core of the problem was a vexing question - Why was determining eligibility for SNAP benefits, a 90-minute task, taking up to two months? The backlog in SNAP cases was hurting the department's clients and crushing the staff. Many thought that the backlog was one of the leading sources of eligibility errors as the staff rushed through key steps in verifying information. Certainly, new technology was part of the solution. Replacing DSS’s computer system was expected to cost $120 million to $150 million and take several years. But what other processes should be reconsidered to get the maximum benefit from the new technology and perhaps provide immediate improvement?
Citation: Gwen Kinkead, Jaan Elias, Teresa Chahine, Lesley Meng, Saed Alizamir, and Edieal Pinker, “CT SNAP 2011: Reconsidering a Failing Process for Granting Food Aid,” Yale Case 20-038, January 28, 2021.