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Just in Time

It's good that New York has myBenefits, Hansell said, because the area has been hit hard by tough economic times. In October 2008, Gov. David Paterson, said more than 160,000 New York residents could lose their jobs soon.

"We're anticipating a tremendous mean increase in the need for many of the programs that we're talking about because people are going to be losing their jobs," Hansell said.

On top of job losses fueled by collapsing Wall Street investment banks, another unemployment wave predicted by Paterson could create an economic quagmire and consequently more people will need public assistance. Chan might already be seeing the signs. During October, myBenefits' Web traffic increased threefold, he said.

"The job losses will be at all income levels. It will be from investment bankers down to support staff, but there also will be the ripple effects on the New York City economy," Hansell said. "As those people lose their jobs and have less money to spend, it's going to affect restaurants -- it's going to affect all sorts of support work, so we expect that there'll be job losses at all levels."

Hansell said OTDA has ambitious plans for myBenefits that will take time to implement. He would like to add more programs that low-income residents would be eligible for, like health insurance and child care. He also wants myBenefits to give citizens more power to manage and administer their benefits online.

OTDA is working with open source developer Red Hat to implement a rules engine -- software that classifies and defines crucial system code -- which will let New York expand myBenefits to more easily encapsulate additional programs and functions. These changes will move New York even closer to the functionality of Wisconsin's ACCESS system.

But ACCESS' features will also continue to evolve, Jones said.

"I'm satisfied with what we have because I see where it's going. It's really going to this interface that deals with all members' needs," he said. "I think, eventually, we're going to get to this particular point where we have to go back and refocus on the technology, but it's just been a few years now, and we've been good at keeping it up-to-date."

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.