NDACo News

NDACo News

Social Service Redesign Progressing

Posted 7/09/19 (Tue)

Donnell Preskey | Government/Public Relations Specialist

More than 150 county officials played an important role in redesigning county social services Tuesday, June 11th. It is truly a monumental task. The North Dakota Association of Counties and the Department of Human Services hosted the joint meeting to update county folks on legislation that shifts the financial responsibility of county social services to the state.

“This is not about the state takeover of county social services,” said North Dakota Human Services Director Chris Jones. “It’s about how do we best deliver social services to citizens across the state. How do we remove boundaries, and make sure we are leveraging the assets and resources that we already have to be more efficient and evolve to serve clients better.”

“The key point we are trying to communicate is that the nature of the zone is administrative only,” said NDACo Executive Director Terry Traynor. “It’s to make sure there’s a place for HR and that there is a county identified to provide payroll services. But zone boundaries mean nothing in terms of service delivery; essentially workers will provide services to clients they are closest to, regardless of which zone they reside in.”

Commissioners, Social Service Directors and Auditors from every county attended the meeting. Traynor and Jones provided the group with the key aspects of the social service redesign project, which are:

  • No reduction in access points, all social service offi ces will remain
  • No reductions in force or reductions in pay; however, roles will change for some
  • Create equity in access and meet clients where they are
  • Promote specialization of efforts, where possible, to improve consistency of service
  • Promote decision making as close to the client as possible

During the meeting, counties broke into groups, visiting with neighboring counties to explore potential partners in creating a human service zone. The legislation allows for the creation of 19 human service zones in the state. Counties with populations of more than 60,000 can be an independent zone. Once county leaders decided which counties would be included in their zone, they chose a “host county.” The benefit structure of the zone will be based on what the host county offers and will be part of the formula paid by the state. The host county will provide the administrative support for the human service zone.

“This is an important decision for counties. Selecting a host county will determine who is going to employ the workers and how that county is going to administer the support,” said Traynor.

At the end of the day, counties identified 19 zones, with one county remaining undecided. The draft of zones is preliminary; more changes may come, but Traynor and Jones say it is an optimistic start.

“There absolutely is some apprehension. We are talking about peoples’ jobs and ensuring service delivery.” Traynor pointed out that the legislation specifically protects workers. “The bill clearly says no one loses their job, no one goes backward in pay; however, that employee may have a different role.”

Traynor said pilot projects focused on various social service programs throughout the state, show promise in how efficiencies will be realized through the redesign of social services. “Social Service Directors and employees are excited. They are experiencing being able to spend more time with the clients, less time on paper work and on the process. They are witnessing firsthand how this change is resulting in better service delivery,” commented Traynor.

Jones and others from DHS attended the recent County Auditors Annual Meeting to review information they need in preparing their 2020 budgets and indirect costs moving forward.

The Department of Human Services has created a webpage to post information related to the Social Service Redesign project. You can view documents including Frequently Asked Questions, by visiting: www.nd.gov/dhs/.

Prairie Public Radio News Director Dave Thompson sat down with Human Services Director Chris Jones and NDACo Executive Director Terry Traynor for a thorough discussion. Listen to the full interview HERE.