Keep welfare local
Critics of the idea that the state should take over child protection and related services throughout Colorado have a potent argument against state centralization:
The Colorado Benefits Management System — a centralized computer system — was supposed to streamline welfare applications and improve efficiency in managing benefits when it was put on line in 2004. Instead, it led to thousands of errors in applications and benefits payments, a lawsuit against the state, increased time to process an application and additional employees for counties.
Five years later, CBMS is working, but it still requires incredible amounts of staff time to process an application, said Len Stewart, director of the Mesa County Department of Human Services.
So, when a special committee appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter recommended Thursday that the state assume welfare duties for most of the counties in Colorado, and suggested this would improve results for children and families statewide, some skepticism is in order.
There’s little to suggest the state could do a better job with these programs, especially in places such as Mesa County.
We understand why Ritter formed the special committee. The deaths of 13 children around the state who had prior contact with the child welfare system demonstrated something was amiss in the system that was supposed to protect children.
In that respect, some of the committee’s recommendations make sense, such as creating a centralized call system for reporting suspected child abuse.
But the jump from there to the conclusion the state should take over all county welfare programs is a leap too far. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for providing assistance to those in need. And people having problems with the system are likely to have better luck dealing with workers who answer directly to locally elected county commissioners than someone in a regional office who answers to bureaucrats in Denver.
The regional centers recommended by the governor’s committee could mean long drives to other counties for people seeking assistance in rural areas. And it could mean reduced services in a place such as Mesa County, which goes beyond state requirements.
Larger counties such as Mesa could opt out of the statewide system and provide services under strict state mandates, but it would cost the county $755,000 more a year for no increase in services.
People like Stewart and Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland have good reason to adamantly oppose the recommendation for a centralized system. Gov. Ritter should reject it.