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Onondaga County Department of Social Services installs kiosks to shorten wait times

Ellen Abbott
Lines at Onondaga County Department of Social Services.

Onondaga County is turning to technology to try and cut back the lines for people waiting for help in the Department of Social Services. The county is the first in the state to install kiosks to divert some of the need for visits to case workers.

The second floor of the John H. Mulroy Civic Center is often filled with jostling families waiting in long lines to see a Department of Social Services caseworker. Sometimes it’s just to drop off a birth certificate or other documentation to get recertification. Those long lines could come to an end with some new kiosks the county has installed in a rear alcove of the public area.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Deputy County Executive for Human Services Ann Rooney says eight of the scanners, which look like ATMs, offer an alternative to the lines.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

“You hit scan documents. It’ll ask you to scan it. It’ll make a copy, give you back your original, give you a receipt and off you go,” Rooney says.

The information is then transferred to proper files, and there’s no need to meet with a caseworker. Rooney says it's all part of streamlining the department that deals with everything from food stamps to family assistance.

"By making smaller the focus areas of our department heads, it has allowed our Commissioner Sarah Merrick to really look at processing how we do things, how we can do it better or more efficiently," she said. "We aren't hiring additional workers, so we are relying on technology to make us more efficient."

"We're thrilled to get it up and running and make it easier for folks so they're not spending inordinate amounts of time here just waiting to turn in a document."

According to Rooney, this could mean about 500 visitors a month making a quick trip to the kiosk instead of standing in line. The county is also considering putting two other machines out in the community, and there could be possibilities beyond that.

“If this really is successful, and we see lines at the machines, it would make sense to get more … For now this is the central point -- and putting one in the community,” Rooney says.

Ten machines, along with programming, cost the county $100,000. County Executive Joanie Mahoney says it’s worth it.

“Instead of either or, better service delivery or lower cost, we have focused on things that deliver both,” Mahoney says. “How do we make service delivery better and cheaper? And this is a perfect example of that.”

The kiosks will go into use at the end of March.