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Pa. bureau lauded for work to modernize, speed welfare appeals

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 8:37 p.m.
Tracy Henry, 44, is the director of the The Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. The bureau won a Governor’s Innovator Award in 2012 for switching to an electronic transfer system that resulted in quicker appeals when people were denied welfare benefits. Submitted

HARRISBURG — Even in a digital age, the Department of Public Welfare took about eight weeks per case to get appeals filed by welfare clients to Commonwealth Court — the enormous amount of photocopying and documentation required slowed the process.

But transmitting case files electronically saved staff about 80 hours of work each week and reduced the time of getting a case to the appeals court to one week.

The Bureau of Hearing and Appeals made it happen. The bureau gets about 78,000 appeals a year from welfare clients challenging decisions.

The electronic transfer system resulted in quicker appeals when people were denied welfare benefits and “less bureaucratic and costly red tape” for taxpayers, Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander said.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took notice and presented the Governor's Innovator Award to the bureau — in person — at the Farm Show Complex last summer.

Accepting on behalf of the bureau was Director Tracy Henry, 44, a Philadelphian who dreamed of getting the agency's overall record storage and transmission into electronic form.

The department began working with paperless transcripts in 2011.

“We're not quite there yet,” Henry said.

In a bureaucracy as large as the Department of Public Welfare, Henry knows “we have to take baby steps.”

A nearly 10-year veteran of the agency, Henry said she's proud of receiving the award from Corbett , and she appreciates that she got a copy of the plaque to keep at home as well as one for the office.

“Speeding up the appeals processing time for benefits appeals will pay-off for clients and for taxpayers,” Alexander said.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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