Indiana Hurts Poor, Blind & Elderly By|Privatizing Public Assistance, Citizens Say

     SOUTH BEND, IND. (CN) – The State of Indiana discriminated against poor people, the blind, disabled and elderly in privatizing intake and eligibility for public assistance, says a suit in Federal Court, describing a principal private contractor in the project as “scandal plagued.”

     The complaint says Indiana’s head of Family and Social Services, E. Mitchell Roob, was formerly vice president of “scandal plagued” Affiliated Computer Services, which shared the state’s $1.2 billion privatization contract with IBM, according to a federal complaint.
     This lawsuit, removed from LaPorte County to Federal Court, says Gov. Mitch Daniels’ privatization drive illegally discriminates against the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
     Gov. Daniels began privatizing the system for food stamps, Medicaid and TANF (cash assistance) in 2006, saying he wanted to fire 2,000 of the state’s 2,500 employees in those systems, and reduce its regional officer from 40 to 18.
     The nine plaintiffs say the staff reduction and increased reliance on computer and Internet based applications discriminates against the blind, infirm and elderly. They point out that in the pilot counties where the privatization began, food stamp grants declined by 11.5% from May 2007 until May 2008, while the states other 80 counties saw a 4.2% increase in food stamps. And, they say, the pilot counties included those suffering the highest levels of unemployment, including Delaware County, which had the highest unemployment rate in Indiana.
     Plaintiffs cite a Dec. 4, 2006 article in “Information Week” criticizing grant recipient ACS as “scandal plagued.”
     Eleven of the 13 counties that dropped in Medicaid enrollment during the pilot program were from the 12 pilot counties, while the rest of the state saw a 2.7% Medicaid increase, the complaint states.
     And the number of applicants denied for allegedly “failing to cooperate” with the state more than doubled, from 8,036 in May 2007 to 17,919 in May 2008, the complaint states.
     “Privatized intake and eligibility appears to ‘blame the recipient’ for alleged failures to cooperate when in fact a reduction in face-to-face contract with caseworkers and reliance on computer intake, fax and call centers have actually reduced accessibility and increased barriers for participants,” the complaint states.
     Plaintiffs want the privatized system enjoined and rolled back, the state jobs restored and the regional offices reopened. They are represented by Shaw Friedman of LaPorte.

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