- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers who visited a social service office say they found people waiting hours trying to get services restored as the state struggles to fix problems with its public benefit system.

Democratic state Reps. Mary Lou Marzian, Jim Wayne and Darryl Owens said they spent about an hour talking with staff and clients at the social service office in downtown Louisville, The Courier-Journal (https://cjky.it/1oMnrgc) reported. The Louisville lawmakers said they were shocked by the stories they heard Friday.

“It’s unimaginable what some of these Kentuckians have been through,” Wayne said. “People shouldn’t be treated like this.”

Marzian called it “heartbreaking, depressing, sad.”

Officials with Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration have said they’re struggling to correct widespread problems with the new system known as Benefind, meant to be a one-stop shop for public benefits. Advocates and individuals have reported hours-long waits on the phone and jammed state benefit offices as frustrated clients try to regain services - such as Medicaid health coverage or food stamps - that were canceled in error.

“This administration needs to go sit in every office and see for themselves what they are doing to people,” Marzian said.

Among those the lawmakers spoke with was a young mother of an infant daughter with a heart condition. The baby, who needs heart surgery, hasn’t been able to get needed medication or see her pediatrician since her Medicaid health coverage was cut off in January.

A grandmother has been paying the $700-per-month cost of oxygen the infant needs while they try to get the health coverage restored, the mother said.

Owens said state workers at the office told the lawmakers as many as 1,000 people per day have been visiting the office and waiting for hours to speak with workers. Some stay until closing time, only to be told they will have to return.

“We learned that sometimes, even those who get there first thing in the morning don’t get help so they have to come back,” Owens said.

All three lawmakers are members of the House human services budget subcommittee.

With the end of the current legislative session approaching, the three lawmakers said they hope to convene a meeting of the budget subcommittee and invite officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to explain what the state is doing to resolve the problems with the Benefind system.

Bevin’s administration has acknowledged problems with the system developed under former Gov. Steve Beshear. An executive with Deloitte Consulting, which developed the $101 million system, has said it was thoroughly tested but developed unexpected problems after its Feb. 29 launch.

Marzian said whatever the problems are, it’s clear more needs to be done.

“It’s time to take responsibility and fix it,” Marzian said. “These are the people that are the most vulnerable, who need help the most.”

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