Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) was established in 1991 as an umbrella agency to coordinate and provide all human services in Indiana, from welfare through mental health, child care and rehabilitation services. The brainchild of Democratic Governor Evan Bayh (1988-1996), it was supposed to make the delivery of these services more efficient, and also cut costs. It has five major divisions: the Division of Family Resources (DFR), which handles eligibility for Medicaid, SNAP benefits or food stamps, and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, i.e., what is generally known as welfare; Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning (OMPP), which administers Medicaid; the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services; Division of Mental Health and Addiction (DMHA); and Division of Aging, which handles long-term care under Medicaid. (State of Indiana, http://www.in.gov/fssa/2406.htm)
Also in need of mention under human services, though not part of FSSA, is the beleaguered Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), which handles issues of child neglect, abuse and foster care in the state. Indiana’s child abuse and neglect rates are among the highest in the country, where child deaths due to neglect and abuse are noticeably high, standing at a rate of 12.2 instances per 1,000 children under 18 in 2011, according to the Indiana Youth Institute. (http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/stateprofile.aspx?state=IN&loc=16; Indiana Daily Student, “Indiana child abuse rates 1.5 percent times the national average,” September 13, 2007, http://www.idsnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=56055§ion=search; Niki Kelly, “Indiana’s fatal child abuse rate increases,” Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette, April 2, 2010, http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20100402/NEWS07/304029971/1002/LOCAL; “More Indiana Children Die from Abuse, Neglect, Report Says,” November 1, 2011, http://www.sjccasa.org/images/images/Indy%20Channel%20News.pdf)
The DCS’ “Annual Child Fatality Report, July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010,” issued February 2012, (http://www.in.gov/dcs/files/fatalitiesreportSFY2010.pdf), has a revealing chart on p. 3, which I’ve copied below:
SFY Total Abuse Neglect Previous Involvement
2003 51 34 17 11
2004 57 22 35 19
2005 54 24 30 20
2006 53 30 23 11
2007 36 17 19 9
2008 46 24 22 15
2009 38 24 14 9
2010 25 19 6 4
As shown, there were 360 children’s deaths from abuse or neglect in Indiana in the eight years from 2003 through 2010; further there were over 50 deaths annually from 2003 through 2006. Also, and quite disturbing, these deaths occurred despite DCS prior involvement in 98 instances, and DCS intervention was quite prevalent during the years 2003-2006, when the most death occurred. While both the number of deaths and the pattern of previous DCS prior involvement both tapered off from 2007 on, the DCS had already established itself as a troubled and troubling government agency which had undermined itself and its mission; and even the DCS itself admitted in 2002 that there had been ongoing underreporting of abuse and neglect deaths since at least 1999. (Indiana Youth Institute, http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/Map.aspx?state=IN&ind=1131&dtm=2469&tf=18)
These are but some indication of malfunction in the delivery of human services in Indiana. As for the FSSA itself, its performance generally pleases no one. The various Divisions often do not communicate with one another, as I directly experienced from the 1990s through the present—when disability had not only made me eligible for food stamps and Medicaid, I was also receiving mental health services through Community Mental Health Centers operated under the aegis of the DMHA. I found out directly both through my experiences and the anecdotes provided by my psychotherapists that persons receiving both welfare and mental health services are stymied by lack of coordination among programs and services. My long-term pharmacist regularly complains of the arbitrariness and sudden rule changes under Medicaid, as well as the opaqueness of the language FSSA uses, often decipherable only by a lawyer. Further, three times I’ve been ruled ineligible for benefits I was entitled to, which I won back on appeal—a process usually taking six months, and in one instance, over a year.
In 2006, under Republican Governor Mitch Daniels (2000-2012), the FSSA contracted out its welfare eligibility determination to IBM, an ill-fated move that lasted until 2010, and was marked by repeated malfunction by IBM, resulting in delays for benefits and the turning down of applicants who were, in fact, eligible for benefits. Ironically, Daniels privatized welfare services in the same year that Texas, which had earlier privatized such services, abandoned privatization because it hadn’t worked. Now Indiana has a hybrid system of local offices and centralized call centers and document centers which Indiana residents can use to apply for benefits, handle appeals, and provide documentation for their cases. However, as I’ve directly experienced, at least in 2012 these centralized services worked none too well; in particular, I remember a call on December 18, 2012 to the central call-in center on a denial of eligibility issue, and found that the center only had data through the middle of November. Also, as I no longer had a specific case worker, each time I called I talked to a new case worker who was unfamiliar with my case, and had to waste time reviewing the documents which were each time presented anew. However, I must say that services from the FSSA had considerably improved in 2013, when I received prompt phone calls in both January and February from an FSSA representative on my pending cases, and where the service provided was competent.
Indiana has been hard hit by the recession that started in 2007, with both massive increases in poverty and unemployment, making more Hoosiers eligible for both welfare benefits through the FSSA and unemployment benefits through the Department of Workforce Development under the Department of Labor. However, the response of the Governor’s office and the Indiana General Assembly has been to cut benefits and blame the poor and unemployed for their plight. In 2011, the General Assembly passed a law which governor Daniels signed that reduced unemployment compensation by 25% and capped the maximum weekly benefits allowed at $360/week, or the equivalent of a full-time job paying only $9/hour. In 2012 the General Assembly passed legislation, which Gov. Daniels signed, making Indiana a Right-to-Work state, the first such state to enact such legislation since Oklahoma did in 2001. Touted as a job-creation measure, to date it has not paid off in increased employment, but has, instead, undercut worker protection on the job and undermined unions. However, Indiana’s unemployment rate stood at 8.3% in December 2012, above the national average of 7.9%; (Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LASST8000003) and if the Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6 measure of unemployment is used, which includes not only those officially unemployed (i.e., actively looking for work), but also discouraged workers and those only marginally attached to the workforce, as well as those employed only part-time when they’d rather be employed full-time, the rate jumps to 14.2%. In people terms, this represents 262,000 officially unemployed Hoosiers statewide, and if the U-6 measure is used, 448,500 persons. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LASST8000003; http://www.bls.gov/lau/stalt/htm)
Similarly with poverty. Indiana had a 2007-2011 average poverty rate of 14.1%, which compares to 14.3% nationally. However, Indiana’s poverty rate for 2007, before the recession, was only 11.8%, and climbed steadily thereafter: in 2008 it was 14.3%, 1n 2009 16.1%, in 2010 16.3%, and in 2011 15.6%. Poverty among children under 18 stood at 22.6% in 2011. (Indiana Youth Institute, http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/stateprofile.aspx?state=IN&loc=16) So, from 2007 to 2011, Indiana’s overall poverty level increased by 32%, rendering 989,000 Hoosiers living in poverty in 2011, out of a total Indiana population of 6,500,000. (US Census Bureau, “Table 21. Number of Poor and Poverty Rate, by State: 1980 to 2011,” http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/historical/people.html)
However, this actually underestimates the number of Hoosiers, as well as US residents in poverty, as the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold stands at only $11,945 per year for single persons under 65 and $11,011 for those 65 an older; while that for a family of four stands at only $23,681. (US Census Bureau, “Poverty Thresholds for 2012 by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years,” http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html) But based on calculations of the increase in the Consumer Price Index since 2001, when Indiana’s Economic Development Commission stated a “livable wage” standard of $10/hour for full-time work, that “livable wage” (also called a Living Wage) would equal $12.99/hour as of December 2012 and $13.03/hour as of January 2013. Since the Living Wage is economically defined as at least 130% of the poverty wage, that would make the upper threshold of poverty $9.99/hour for a single person in December 2012, and $10.02/hour in January 2013. Indeed, statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics have argued in research papers prepared for the Bureau that the actual poverty thresholds should be 1½ times what they are now to accurately reflect costs of living, which would make the poverty threshold for a single person nearly $18,000 a year, and that of a family of four over $35,500 a year. As it stands now, the federal income limit for food stamp eligibility for a single person is only $1,211 a month, (communication from DFR, FSSA) or $14,532 per year, the equivalent of a full-time hourly wage of $6.99/hour—less than the minimum wage. But few who are really informed would call a year-round minimum wage adequate to lift one out of poverty!
However sobering these measures of actual Living Wage and poverty incomes are, and which themselves call for extending benefits to combat poverty, both the federal government and, above all, the State of Indiana, are going in the opposite direction, which can only worsen an already bad situation. Newly-elected Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a Republican Tea Party stalwart (first among the Republican House leadership to join Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party caucus) (George Fish, “The Tea Party and the 2012 Indiana elections,” Examiner.com, October 22, 2012, http://www.examiner.com/article/the-tea-party-and-the-2012-indiana-elections?cid=db_articles) has proposed a biennial budget for Fiscal Years 2014-15 of $29 billion that, while increasing Medicaid spending by $200 million each year, also eliminates dental care, financing for hearing aids, and podiatry services; it also does not provide funds for increasing Medicaid coverage to 133% of the federal poverty level for entitlements, as called for by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Instead, Governor Pence is calling for a cut in the state’s personal income tax of $790 million, reducing the tax rate from a 3.4% flat rate to 3.06% rate, a measure that has garnered even Republican opposition. (Sunshine Review, http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Indiana_state_budget) But Pence’s tax plan is in line with general Republican strategy to cut social entitlements, and thus shred the already-fragile social safety net. And despite a stated commitment to job creation, this Republican budget under Daniels allotted less than 1% of its funds to economic development, even less than it allotted to conservation and environmental protection. (Pie graph provided by the office of State Sen. Jean Breaux)
As it was, the Fiscal Year 2012-13 budget signed into law by Governor Daniels spent 23% of its revenues on welfare and Medicaid, (Breaux, op.cit.) with some of the lowest levels of benefits in the country. TANF cash assistance benefits, for example, were only a maximum of $288 a month for a family of three in 2005, (National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, http://www.nccp.org/tools/table.php?states=IN&submit=Create+Table&ids%5B%5D=12-288&db=pol&data=text) and are not available to many unemployed families—the breadwinner(s) receive too much in unemployment compensation to qualify! Income limit for full Medicaid coverage is a paltry $710 per month, (communication from DFR, FSSA) and receiving more than that means paying a spend-down before Medicaid will pay for any medical expenses. In my particular case, with a Social Security income of $822/month (the national average is $1,400/month) and occasional work through temp services, my “total countable income” of $990.24/month means I have a spend-down of $280/year. Further, as I am now working full-time in a warehouse job that pays $9/hour, I will be losing my eligibility for food stamps and Medicaid entirely, although my work income for the nine-and-a-half months of work expected for 2013 will only amount to $14,800 for the year. However, not only can I expect my medical expenses to substantially increase, I can also expect to pay an additional $300/month for groceries. All on a job with only a $360/week gross income and net of approximately $298!
But I’m now one of the “lucky ones” among my fellow “overqualified” older Hoosier college grads in that I have a full-time steady job, my first in 12 years. Several of my friends have only seasonal work, and then often don’t even work a full-time week. One such friend only qualifies for $64/week in unemployment compensation when she’s not working.
Indiana is about average for the nation economically. Its cost of living is near the national average, and while wages are low, so are also housing and other costs. Its unemployment rate is generally just a little above the national average. But loss of manufacturing jobs has cost the Hoosier state immensely, so that Indiana had only a 2007-2011 per capita income of $24,497 and a 2007-2011 median household income of $48,393, compared to the national per capita income of $27,915 and median household income of $52,762. US Census, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/18000.html) Indeed, Indiana’s per capita and median household incomes have been falling steadily compared to their national counterparts for the past ten years. (Indiana Business Research Center, Kelly School of Business, Indiana University, STATS, http://www.stats.indiana.edu/dms4/new_dpage.asap?profile_id=339&output_mode=1; Indiana Institute for Working Families, “Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2011,” p. 24, http://www.incap.org/statusworkingfamilies.html)
Educationally, Indiana is far worse off: only 22.7% of its residents aged 25 or over had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the national rate of 28.2%. (US Census,http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/18000.html) In 2010, Indiana had only an 84.5% high school graduation rate. (Indiana Youth Institute, http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/stateprofile.aspx?state=IN&loc=16)
And even though the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget allotted 53% of its spending to K-12 education and 12% to higher education (a significant drop in higher education spending from previous years), its primary and secondary schools are still mediocre and among college graduates, 60% leave the state each year due to lack of job opportunities. In 2011, 43.1% of Indiana’s residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher suffered long-term unemployment, while 7.4% were underemployed, and16.2% only worked part-time. (Indiana Institute for Working Families, op.cit., p. 20, p. 14) “We're stuck,” said Philip Powell, Associate Professor of Business at Indiana University-Bloomington, to the Indianapolis Star in 2009. “We're stuck because we don't have the knowledge base we need in the labor force. A lot of that is because of our really mediocre primary and secondary educational system." (Quoted in George Fish and Dave Fey, “Mediocrity—a Hoosier affliction,” Bloomington Alternative, July 12, 2009, http://bloomingtonalternative.com/articles/2009/07/12/10039)
Such is the State of Indiana, March 2013—inadequate social services, shredded social safety net, too-high unemployment, an inept FSSA administering human services, poor education, a Brain Drain, and politics dominated by Tea Party Republicans. Only thing “good” to report is that it’s about the national average.