DCF awarded $7 million bonus for accuracy

07/27/09 Mitch E. Perry
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No better statistic reflects the dire economic conditions that are affecting Floridians than the fact that in the past year, the number of those applying for food stamps has increased by 900,000 people.

But instead of becoming bogged down by more applications, employees with the Department of Children & Families (DCF) have thrived, to the point where their accuracy rates in inputting information has become the best in the nation.

And with that success comes a bonus of over $7 million dollars, that was distributed today to DCF head George Sheldon in Tampa, by Jessica Shahin with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

The financial bonus is doubly rewarding for state officials, considering Florida was rated the least accurate nationally just two years ago.

Over 34 million people across the country take some form of food stamps, including over 2 million now in Florida.

Jessica Shahin with the USDA is senior career official directly responsible for the food stamp program nationwide, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Shahin came to give praise to staffers at the call center of DCF’s office in Tampa, the site of one of three call centers in the state that give information and assistance to Floridians across the state.

The large check was given at the Tampa offices of DCF, which also includes one of three Access Call Centers in the state, that accepts incoming phone calls from those in the state asking for assistance.

George Sheldon is the director of the Florida Department of Children and Families. He said the statistical improvement is worthy of honoring.

The largest demand for food stamps in Florida comes from counties just south of the Tampa Bay region, with Charlotte, Lee and Manatee Counties showing tremendous increases over the past year.

In 2006, Florida’s error rate was at 8.59%, tied for the worst in the country with Maine. This year it was at 0.85%.

Sheldon said that currently 90% of all food applications now come to the state online.

In addition to Tampa, the state hosts call centers in Jacksonville and Miami. Secretary Sheldon says they are all designed to handle roughly 80,000 calls a day. But he said last Monday, those call centers received over 200,000.

DCF began re-designing their system regarding food stamps several years ago.

Jan Gregory is the Deputy Regional Director for DCF’s SunCoast Region. She says in part due to the threat of privatization called by former Governor Jeb Bush, she that the Tampa Call Center was the first call center to make changes for efficiency that have become the model for the state.

Secretary Sheldon says that state budget is tight, but nevertheless, says he will recommend to the Legislature that every member who works in what is known as the Access Center in the state receive a $500 bonus for leading the nation in an accuracy rate that brings the $7 million dollars to the state coffers.

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