Food and cash assistance recipients in Hamilton County will soon sign their recertification papers with an audio signature, a process that will reduce the number of cases where people lose benefits because of unreturned paperwork.
On March 1, Hamilton County Job and Family Services is switching to a state telephone system to recertify Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cases and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cases. Ohio’s Enterprise telephone number features an audio signature and a “virtual hold” option that will allow applicants to hold their place in line if wait times exceed five minutes, receiving a call back in the order their call was received.
Hamilton County processes 300 to 400 recertification applications a day. Kevin Brewer, section chief in Family and Adult Assistance 3, said providing applicants the chance to sign their documents by answering personal questions over the phone will vastly reduce the number of cases that sit waiting for signed paperwork.
“The number one reason why benefits remain pending is they fail to return the signed recertification form,” he said. “If they don’t return it by the end of their benefit period, they have a break in services and could lose some of their benefits.”
Most applications for SNAP or TANF benefits, outside of specialized cases such as those in nursing homes, are handled over the phone. In Hamilton County, consumers call a local number.
A couple of years ago, the state created the Enterprise hotline to handle Medicaid applications, so, if a local consumer is applying for Medicaid benefits, they call a state number. Agency leaders recognized the state’s Medicaid process was superior because of the audio signature and virtual hold features and were eager to switch TANF and SNAP cases to the state process.
“We previously looked into having a telephone system like this and it was going to be very expensive,” Brewer said. “This is a huge cost saving for us because the state has funded it.”
Becky Varno, who is the point person on scheduling recertification calls, said the process will work like this:
- Applicants will receive a mailing asking them to call at a specific time between 8 a.m. and noon on a specific day.
- Applicants will call 1-844-640-6446.
- Applicants will be asked to punch in their ZIP code and the call will be routed to Hamilton County.
- Consumers will hear several prompts and should select the appropriate option to recertify their SNAP and/or TANF benefits.
- At points in the process, the callers may be given the option of virtual hold and will be given the chance to sign their documents through the audio software.
Varno said the agency will cautiously look to expand this process to other areas, such as initial applications for food and cash assistance. The audio signature and virtual hold feature currently do not apply for other application processes.
Consumers, agency partners and authorized representatives will want to take note of the change, Varno said. She said all recertification mailings will now contain the new number.
“On March 1, they need to call 1-844-640-6446,” she said. “We want this transition to be as seamless as possible. The consumer just needs to know to call the new number; from there, the process will be much easier.”