Site helps citizens sort out aid

Texas service uses on-screen prompts to let a citizen determine which types of state assistance will be of most help

Eight years in the planning, Texas has finally revved the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) into high gear with the launch of an initial component aimed at enabling citizens to "pre-screen" themselves before starting the application process for public assistance.

The State of Texas Assistance and Referral System (STARS) was formally announced Oct. 31. The bilingual, Web-based system (www.txstars.net) uses on-screen prompts to help a user determine which of the more than 50 types of state assistance programs will be the most appropriate.

"STARS helps them navigate through the questions, asking about a person's circumstances without requiring anything that's particular to that person, such as a full name or Social Security number," said Suzanne Biermann, the TIERS executive sponsor in the Texas Department of Human Services.

"Based on the answers, we can then tell them which of the 13 DHS agencies can best help and where they need to go to get that help," Biermann said. "STARS can provide maps and directions to the relevant office and can tell the applicants what kind of documentation or other information DHS requires from them."

That will help greatly to streamline the whole process, she said, because people often drop by the nearest DHS office without knowing whether it is the one that can best help them. Even if they are in the right office, they often have to return because they don't have the right form or information.

American Management Systems Inc. performed the system's conceptual design, high-level requirements definition and other foundation work. AMS, which also was the first vendor on board for the entire TIERS process, designed the STARS screener and small rules engine, both of which will act as tests for the larger components of TIERS.

The next phase for TIERS, which will take another 12 months to 18 months to develop, will be an online eligibility system in which citizens can see how their circumstances stack up against the eligibility requirements of particular assistance programs.

Texas officials also have a longer-term expectation that people will be able to apply for assistance online, Biermann said, but that ability is still a ways off.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

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