More than 20 advocacy groups are asking Texas officials to reconsider proposed staffing cuts that could create delays for vulnerable populations seeking vital health services.
To comply with a request for $131 million in state health cuts, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has proposed reducing or delaying the hiring of 742 staff who handle eligibility and enrollment for assistance programs in the state. Initially, it had floated direct cuts to services.
In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, advocates asked that the request for millions in health cuts be reconsidered.
“[The commission] has proposed cuts that could create delays for children, pregnant women, Texans with disabilities, seniors, and eligible caregivers seeking health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),” the advocates wrote. “Those cuts could also delay enrollment in Healthy Texas Women, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).”
In the state agency’s own proposal, the advocates point out, officials note these changes “may create delays that cause the state to fall short of meeting federal standards for enrolling individuals in these programs in a timely manner.”
All state agencies have been asked to find places to cut back during the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, but advocates for children, low-income families and disabled Texans say assistance programs should be off-limits.
Patrick Bresette, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund of Texas, said more Texans are seeking out help these days. Cutting back staff, he said, will increase wait times and mistakes processing applications.
“If you are really interested in making sure that people have access to the supports they need during this time,” he said, “then you have got to make sure those frontline staff are at a level that can handle that demand.”
The timing of these changes could also be a problem, groups wrote. Uninsured rates have been steadily climbing in Texas, they said, so any delays in enrolling eligible Texans for health insurance programs are especially concerning now.
“Anything we do that either cuts direct services – or the staff that helps delivers those [services] – in the time of a public health crisis just doesn’t make any sense,” Bresette said.
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