Technology is Making Life a Little Easier for Low-Income Residents of Romania's Sibiu County

In Romania, the Law about Prevention and Alleviation of Social Marginalization includes a provision that ensures that all citizens are eligible for social services support if their income falls below a certain level. Citizens who fall below this threshold income level are considered marginalized or excluded and deserving of social services assistance. Social services assistance consists in a monthly cash allocation that guarantees those marginalized a minimum level of income, and, in the winter months, an additional heating costs allocation.

When a resident of Romania’s Sibiu County needs to apply for social services assistance, he or she needs to visit the local city hall where local social services assistance offices are located. The applicant is required to submit a number of documents and answer questions in order for the Social Services Assistance employee to ascertain his or her eligibility. Next, the Local Council Social Services Assistance representative reviews and evaluates the application. If there is no need for additional information or documentation, the application is approved and the applicant will start receiving social assistance benefits on the first day of the following month.

Sibiu City Council In the past, communication between the local towns and the County’s administrative center in Sibiu were difficult and the process of applying for and receiving social services assistance was slow. Most of the information provided by applicants was handwritten by social services assistance employees, and the same employees were required to make time consuming trips to the Social Services Center at the County level, in Sibiu. With the help of computers, Internet connections between local towns and the County’s administrative center, as well as additional training for local government employees, the efficiency of the SSA application process has greatly improved in the past few months. As a result, the low-income residents of Sibiu county are able to apply for and receive assistance much faster than in the past, at a time when they need it most.

This improvement is the result of the “Social Services Assistance Integrated System” project, or SSAIS project, undertaken within the context of dot-ORG’s Romania Information Technology Initiative (RITI) Access project. The purpose of the RITI-Access project is to increase government efficiency and transparency and to improve citizen participation through information and communication technology. This particular activity within the RITI-Access project focuses on improving the delivery of local government services and more specifically, social services assistance.

Main Benefits
The amount of time it takes to evaluate an application has been reduced from up to one day to an average of 30 minutes. In the past, there was no accurate count of the number of applications processed during a specific period of time. The implementation of the software application has facilitated much more accurate and real-time data about the number of applications received, processed and approved.
Computers and Internet connections are not only expediting the social services assistance application process, thereby making life easier for citizens, but they are also making it easier for the County Council to analyze social services data and develop budgets based on more accurate and timely data transmitted via the Internet.

Added Benefits – Reallocation of Resources Provides Further Improvements for Citizens
In Sura Mare, one of the 62 City Halls connected under the project, Elena Nicodin, the social service assistance employee noted that the SSAIS project has significantly reduced administrative expenses associated with the processing of social services applications. Realizing this, Sura Mare City Hall decided to remodel the Social Service Office and purchase new office furniture. This is perhaps one of the unexpected positive impacts of the project, as the freeing of resources that can now be utilized for purposes that had not been initially foreseen.

Capacity Building - Staff Training
Of course, computers and connectivity cannot be brought into the local towns without appropriate training. For the past five months, social service assistance employees at city halls throughout Sibiu County have been trained to use computers and to do their job with new technology tools. Some employees, like Maria Lalu (see photo) who works as the Social services assistance employee in the village of Sadu, had never used computers prior to this project. While some, like Maria, had to start with the basics of computer and Internet use, all social service assistance employees in the 62 city halls connected to the County Council also had to learn to use the software they were now going to use to do their job.

This project is the result of a collaborative effort between dot-ORG’s RITI-Access project, the Sibiu County Council (local government), one of Romania’s leading software developer, Sobis, and the Peace Corps. The private sector partner, Sobis, contributed 34 new computers distributed around 34 of the local social services offices as well as free promotion and advertising signs for all 62 social services locations. In addition, Sobis has prepared a replicability strategy and is engaged in efforts to market their software and its benefits to other counties so that the project can be replicated beyond Sibiu.

The RITI-Access Project began in August 2002 and runs three years (Associate Cooperative Agreement No. 186-A-00-02-00104-00 under the dot-ORG Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00014-00).

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Acting Director, dot-ORG
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884 8856

Related DOT-COM Activity
Romania Information Technology Initiative - Access
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