By Gregg Fishman on June 27th, 2013

This blog posting and video are part of a series being produced by CSAC to highlight county best practices through our annual Challenge Awards. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2012 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2013 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 28, 2013. 

To review a video about how Sacramento County is meeting the challenge, click here.


When people say that government agencies should be run more like a business, I suspect what they really mean is that government should use more efficient processes that result in better customer service. That’s what Sacramento County is now offering through a change of technology and process in their Cal-Fresh Service Center.

Under the old “case based” model, when someone applied for Cal-Fresh benefits, they were assigned to a case-worker who was in charge of that file. When you had questions, needed to make some changes or had any other reason to contact the program, you had to talk to your case-worker. That model worked because that one person gets to know his or her cases over time, but with growing case loads and limited budgets, the old way became unwieldy and inflexible.

When a case-worker was out of the office for any reason, no one else had access to his or her cases. Calls from their clients went to an answering machine, but there was no one else to help right away. When the case-worker came back to work, they often had a huge backlog of calls, questions and other work to wade through. All the cases were literally paper files, kept at the caseworker’s desk. It took up huge amounts of space and even if the case-worker was in the office, he or she often had a hard time finding the right file.

Sacramento County  needed to change the process, and to do that, they needed to change the technology. Working mainly in-house, Sacramento County developed a system that allows any case-worker to access any Cal-Fresh file by computer. They had to scan hundreds of thousands of documents, but the result has been phenomenal. “Clients can actually, from the comfort of their homes, call in to our service center and have their needs taken care of,” said Gladys Deloney, Deputy Director of Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance. “They can provide verifications to us electronically without having to come in the office. So it’s a big deal for customer service.”

Deloney notes that many Cal-Fresh clients have young children, and they may not have access to a car, so saving an office visit makes a big difference. And since any county case-worker can access any client’s file, calls get answered faster and the work is accomplished in a timely manner. Employees can take time off and not return to a mountain of unfinished work. The new system is saving time, money, and providing better customer service. Now that’s the way to run a business—I mean, local government.