IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Profiles in Government: State Social Services Uses IT to Help the Needy

Among its technology endeavors, the California Department of Social Services on Friday announced the launch of ebtEDGE, a new solution available via app and portal, to harden state benefits such as CalFresh and CalWORKs against bad actors.

HGA Architects and Engineers
Fast Facts
Leadership: California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Director Kim Johnson is a longtime state executive who was appointed to her role by Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 27, 2019. Her time at the state dates to February 2015 when she joined CDSS as its chief of the child care and refugee programs branch, Welfare to Work Division. Johnson was previously CDSS’ deputy director, Family Engagement and Empowerment Division, from August 2018 to June 2019. Before joining the state, she was most recently public policy director at the nonprofit membership organization California Child Care Resource and Referral Network from April 2012 to February 2015. CDSS’ chief information officer is Chad Crowe, a 15-year state employee who has been in his current role since July 2022. He was previously chief information officer at the California Department of Human Resources, where he had worked since joining the state in April 2008. “Having worked in IT for so many years, I understand the pain, pitfalls and what it takes to get things done at an operational level,” Crowe told Industry Insider in April 2023 in a One-on-One interview, adding, “Therefore, I can support my team in several different ways by giving direction, guidance, mentoring or just being a cheerleader.”

Budget: $48.7 billion according to the enacted 2023-2024 fiscal year state budget, an increase of about 9 percent from $44.6 billion in FY 2022-23 (all numbers are rounded). Annual IT budget, estimated in April, was $75 million, managed directly by the department and not including IT projects managed in partnership; estimated annual IT operating budget was $35 million.

Total staff: As of July 1, the start of FY 2023-24, CDSS was approved for 5,982 staff, up from 5,845 in FY 2022-23. Crowe said in April that CDSS had 212 IT employees and “a few vacancies.”

One of 16 departments and offices in the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS), the CDSS and its thousands of employees are charged with oversight and administration of the programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable residents. The department began in 1903 as a six-member Board of Charities and Corrections, which monitored and reported on 12 charitable and correctional institutions, 60 county hospitals and charity houses, 57 county jails, and 300 city and town jails and “lockups.” Subsequent years saw the board work to improve residents’ welfare, including by placing orphans in good homes, enforcing child support and child labor laws, and making school attendance compulsory.

CDSS’ modern mission centers on delivering aid, services and protection to the neediest Californians while strengthening and encouraging individual responsibility and independence for families. Its staff work in 51 offices statewide and in conjunction with the 58 county welfare departments, offices and community-based organizations.

On Friday, CDSS announced the launch of ebtEDGE, a new mobile app and web-based portal for EBT cardholders, in collaboration with CalHHS’ Office of Technology and Solutions Integration and Fidelity Information Services. The app and portal offer users new card management that can protect against the theft of their CalFresh and CalWORKs benefits. Capabilities include the ability to freeze a card when it’s not in use; to block online and out-of-state transactions; to change PINs; and to request a replacement card. The mobile app also enables device biometrics including touch ID or facial recognition for sign-in.

“ebtEDGE empowers EBT cardholders to enhance the security of their benefits and represents the kind of innovation California is known for while providing people with the tools to help prevent EBT theft,” CDSS Director Kim Johnson said in a statement. “California takes the issue of benefit theft seriously and we continue to work with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate these crimes.”

Other CDSS public-facing solutions available through its website include:

  • The Data Portal, with statistics, research, plans, reports and reference materials related to its programs and policies.
  • The Facility Search Welcome, with years of information on residential care facilities to help people and families educate themselves, plus email notifications.
  • The Reports and Data area on refugees, with information on admissions and processing in the U.S. and worldwide.
The department has been working this year on several additional large IT initiatives that the CIO said were “getting off the ground” and would require external support:
  • The Facility Management System, to track licensing of care facilities, is in Stage 3 of the California Department of Technology’s Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL) process.
  • The new Housing and Homelessness Reporting Solution is in Stage 1 of the PAL process.
  • California Supporting Providers and Reaching Kids (CalSPARK), a new data solution for childcare and food programs, is in Stage 1 of the PAL process.
  • A Statewide Verification Hub to streamline the verification process for applicants of CalWORKs cash assistance and CalFresh food benefits is in Stage 1 of the PAL process.

Stage 1 of the PAL process centers on business analysis, including identifying the problem, establishing a business case, identifying sponsorship and stakeholders, and assessing organizational readiness. Stage 3 of the process, Solution, focuses on procurement, including developing a statement of work, doing a procurement risk assessment, developing a solicitation package, and final solicitation package submission.

During his time in the role, the CIO told Industry Insider that CDSS has also begun several internal foundational improvement efforts. These include:
  • Efforts to establish IT governance.
  • Annual surveys to get feedback from program partners and members of the IT team.
  • A dedication to continual process improvement across IT.
  • Establishing a formal enterprise architecture team.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.