Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Solano County welfare new computer system called CalWIN "goes live" Tuesday

County welfare computer system gets an overhaul

By Sarah Arnquist

FAIRFIELD - A new leader took over Solano County's welfare department just before the division embarks on the largest computer system conversion in the county's history.

Christiana Smith, the new employment and eligibility services director, said her experience as a welfare manager in Yolo County, where the new computer system was implemented in May, will benefit her as she guides Solano County through this major transition.

The new interactive computer system called CalWIN "goes live" Tuesday. County staff shut the former 30-year-old system down last week to prepare for the massive data conversion. Workers have to convert data from the existing 30,000 assistance cases that include MediCal, food stamps, CalWORKs and foster care cases, among others, into the new system.

Meanwhile, they continue handling new cases with paper applications. Staff are tired, but excited for Tuesday, Smith said.

CalWIN is the largest data transition in California's history, costing nearly $780 million. A consortium of 18 counties will adopt the new automated system this year. Smith knows the ins and outs of the CalWIN system because she helped develop it from its infancy five years ago as a consultant.

"It's exciting to see it become real after many years of work, preparation and effort," Smith said.

In the long run, the automated system should streamline the welfare application process and increase efficiency and accurateness, Smith said. She emphasized "in the long run," though, because managers and staff expect a steep learning curve and conversion complications to hold them up in the program's early days.

"When you're doing a transition this large there certainly will be some snags," Smith said.

Yolo County's snags are fresh in Smith's mind. Using that experience, Smith hopes to effectively guide Solano County through similar challenges.

People need to be patient, though, she said. "This is really a tough challenge."

Reach Sarah Arnquist at 427-6953 or sarnquist@dailyrepublic.net.

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