California Counties to Share Social Services Network

A consortium of California counties is investing $321 million in a network

system that they hope will improve the state's delivery of social services.

Electronic Data Systems Corp. announced recently that it will build

the CalWorks Information Network, or CalWIN, a system the company estimated

will handle 40 percent of California's social services caseload.

CalWIN, which goes into development this month, is intended to streamline

the delivery of services through the 18 counties it encompasses. The system

will affect more than a million people who are on Medicaid, receive food

stamps or get assistance from California's welfare-to-work program.

By replacing a 30-year-old system, CalWIN is supposed to ensure that

benefits are properly distributed. It also will make it faster for county

workers to determine whether people are eligible for benefits, and if so,

how much. A case management component will enable counties to measure the

effectiveness of various service programs.

"We'll be serving clients better, we'll be saving money and the workers

are going to like working with the new system instead of an out-of-date

architecture," said Sandra Erbs, consortium manager for CalWIN. "They are

all really significant benefits."

CalWIN will feature an open, component-based architecture. A cross-platform

client/server will involve personal computers, printers, servers, local-area

networks, wide-area networks, an intranet and the Internet.

The consortium and EDS will start in earnest in February to develop

the federally funded system, a process Erbs estimated will take about 14

months. Then there will be about 15 more months of extensive testing and

a pilot before the system is formally launched.

Erbs said the new system will not only modernize the inner workings

of the social services agencies but mkae dealing with the agencies easier

for clients. No longer will someone already being served by a mental health

agency go to welfare and have to start from scratch with basic questions.

Each agency will be able to tap into the others' basic information.

"With welfare reform, there is a real need for agencies to communicate

in order to move people from dependency to self-sufficiency," Erbs said.

"[With CalWIN] everything will be out of a central location, and that will

be much more efficient."

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