Recently, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) launched Access Arkansas, an online method of applying for state services. Arkansans can now apply online for several DHS programs, including ARKids First, the Medicaid Savings Program, TEA Cash Assistance and SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program.
This past week, I attended the grand opening of the Access Arkansas Processing Center in Batesville. The Center will manage these new online applications smoothly and efficiently with greater oversight. And, because it is a Web-based system, the application process will be streamlined. Previously, applications and pre-screenings could only be completed on paper at DHS county offices across the State. Now, they can be sent through the Internet to a centralized clearinghouse.
This state-of-the-art Center will process an estimated 30,000 applications and renewals each month. With the ability to access documents electronically, employees can determine an applicant's eligibility more rapidly, resulting in reduced labor costs. Their work will be of higher quality and more consistent, thanks to the Center's specialized staff training and restructured eligibility processes. Additionally, increased caseworker supervision will allow for continuous evaluation of employee performance and productivity.
As an added benefit, the Center will help us better guard against fraudulent claims. By processing thousands of applications at the Center in Batesville, the volume of cases and number of applicants visiting state offices will be significantly reduced. This will allow caseworkers in the county offices more time to review complex applications and cases, enhancing their ability to detect suspicious or questionable information. If something appears to be in doubt, it can be referred to the DHS fraud unit for further investigation. To assist in fraud detection, the technology at the Batesville facility will allow for the comparison of real-time earnings information with the information provided by applicants.
This streamlining also spurs local economic development without increasing the overall size of state government. While the opening of the Center means 100 new jobs in Batesville, all 100 of these positions were previously located at DHS county offices throughout the State. As those jobs were vacated over time, they were reassigned to the Center. Funding for the building that houses the Center came from federal stimulus funds. That same recovery money also allowed the Department to hire programmers to add online applications to Access Arkansas and convert existing county case files into electronic records.
The new Access Arkansas Processing Center will help DHS conduct its business in a more economical and user-friendly way. Arkansans can more easily obtain the assistance they need and state employees can perform their duties more efficiently. With continued conservative budgeting, cautious spending and thoughtful operation of state agencies, Arkansas will remain a leader in government competence from which the rest of the nation, and particularly the federal government, can learn.