Concerns Remain on HHSC Sunset Consolidation Bill

The Health and Human Services Commission Sunset consolidation plan is less spooky than before, but still too scary for many.
The House Committee on Human Services holds a public hearing today on HB 2304, the “Sunset” bill reauthorizing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and calling for a major restructuring of Texas’ health and human services agencies.
The Center, along with many other Texas individuals and organizations expressed concern about the rapid and massive consolidation of Texas health and human services agencies initially proposed by the Texas Sunset Commission in the fall of 2014. As we wrote in February, “a sweeping reorganization could potentially divert limited staff resources and derail capacity to provide critical services to vulnerable Texans…we hope that Sunset legislation for health and human services agencies will take a slower, more cautious approach aimed at achieving high performance, coordination of services, and transparency—not just simple consolidation of authority.
On March 30, a special HHSC “strike force” appointed by Governor Abbott in response to contracting issued a report calling for a major slowing of the consolidation process and suggesting that public health and protective services should remain as separate agencies indefinitely.
Responding to the strike force input and extensive public comments, Senator Jane Nelson, author of the Senate version of the HHSC Sunset bill, made major changes slowing the consolidation timeline and—among other changes—creating a clearer path forward for the 32 public advisory committees abolished in the original bill.
The House committee is expected to adopt the Senate’s final bill (the “engrossed” version) as its starting point for committee work. CPPP will testify about the concerns that remain: the redirection of agency talent from programs and services to re-structuring; concerns that “division director” titles may not attract and hold top-notch leaders; the dilution of expertise when agency advisory councils are merged into a single body; and the lack of clear answers at this stage—i.e., before an official bill analysis is even public—to how some provisions in the bill will be interpreted.
As we noted in our October post, Texas health and human services agency staffing relative to our state population has declined since 2000, and even more steeply relative to Texans below two times the poverty income level, the low-income Texans who are the agencies’ primary clients.  The Center will continue to work with other advocates and stakeholders to encourage lawmakers to improve the bill—stay tuned!
Read our full testimony here, and watch a video clip here.

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