Under a settlement agreement reached last week in a federal lawsuit, the Connecticut General Assembly will be asked to add 35 positions to the Department of Social Services budget to help process Medicaid applications.

Federal law says the applications must be processed within 45 days, but many had been languishing well-beyond that time period. That prompted New Haven Legal Assistance to file a lawsuit against the state back in January 2012.

Because the settlement exceeds $2.5 million, it will need to be approved by the General Assembly and the court will still need to certify it because it’s a class action.

“The proposed settlement is a reasonable compromise to end this litigation,” the Department of Social Services said Tuesday in a statement. “If approved by the General Assembly, DSS expects to hire 35 additional eligibility staff for processing long-term care applications.”

Since the Appropriations Committee budget already includes funding for an additional 17 positions, legislators will only be asked to add funding for another 18 positions.

Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said that by adding 17 positions in the budget the legislature recognized that there are not enough people to process applications.

Bye said they will need to find the funds for the additional 18 positions and is confident they will be able to figure out how to pay for it.

“This settlement will significantly improve the timeliness of application processing, particularly in the area of long-term care applications,” Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance, said in a statement. “It is not possible to address DSS’s problems with processing without increasing staffing levels. This applies to almost all aspects of DSS’s operations, including the severely under-staffed call centers.” 

In court, DSS had argued the modernization of its eligibility system would improve processing of applications, but the system is not perfect.

Under the new system called ConneCT, all the applications and redeterminations get sent to a company in Manchester that scans them. The applications are then added to a digital database so that DSS workers at the call centers can pull up the information when a client calls.

In the past, clients were assigned specific caseworkers who were the only ones with access to the paper application the client submitted. The chance that someone would lose their benefits — because their caseworker misplaced their paperwork or because that caseworker was away from the office — was much higher before the new system was implemented, according to state officials.

Legal aid attorneys continued to complain when their clients were not getting the services for which they qualified even after their paperwork was being completed in a timely manner.

Toubman argued in court last year that the number of workers available to process the applications over the past decade hadn’t kept pace with the number of Connecticut residents eligible for the program.

In July 2002, Toubman said there were 845 eligibility workers. In May 2013, there were 881 workers, which included the 220 new hires created under the 2012 state budget.

As of the end of March 2014, there were 680,425 residents enrolled in Medicaid, which is almost double the 346,000 who were enrolled in the program in 2002.