Washington takes assistance online

Hampered by congested phones and long lines at its offices, and facing a budget mandate to pursue innovative services, Washington's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has opened an online channel that people can use to apply for assistance.

The virtual Community Services Office (accessible via the On-Line CSO link at www.wa.gov/dshs) provides information on assistance and services that are available to people. On-Line CSO also includes an "eligibility calculator" that gives a ballpark estimate of what services people are eligible for.

"It means, for example, that a woman with a couple of kids who is struggling to make ends meet, and with one of the kids having a health problem, can do a self-determination to see if she is eligible for a child subsidy, child health and food assistance, all without having to take time off work," said Mike Masten, director of the DSHS Community Services Division.

An interview is still required to determine the actual level of assistance, Masten said, but the likelihood is that the Web site will enable more people to make their initial applications over the phone. And that's a far more efficient way of dealing with the process than requiring personal visits to DSHS offices for each case, he said.

The final phase of the On-Line CSO, which is to be deployed this summer, will enable people to submit applications online.

"We honestly feel that an informed client is an empowered client," Masten said, "And for us, the better informed they are, the more productive the transactions we do with them will be."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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