State to close 31 DHS offices, lay off 228 employees - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State to close 31 DHS offices, lay off 228 employees

Nora Nomura Nora Nomura
John Mizuno John Mizuno

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Under its modernization plan, the State Department of Human Services says it'll layoff 228 workers and shutdown 31 offices.

But the worker's union and several state lawmakers are hoping to block this new program.

The plan calls for streamlining the process of applications and renewals for public assistance benefits. DHS says it will save the state $8-million a year.

State officials say the demand for benefits such as welfare and medicaid has nearly doubled because of the recession. To speed up the process, the DHS says things need to change.

"We wish it was not necessary to layoff any of our employees but we cannot expect taxpayers to continue supporting an antiquated system," DHS director Lillian Koller said.

The State plans to push the application process online. People will be able to apply for welfare, medicaid and food stamps through the Internet for the first time.

They can also apply by mail, fax or at other DHS offices or hospitals.

"The reality is that it's a heckuva lot easier for people to apply from home, almost everybody has a phone and if they can't, their neighbor has one," Koller said.

It will all go through two processing centers, one in Hilo and one in Honolulu. That means 228 workers at the dozens of other offices will be out of a job.

The worker's union says it will also leave some of those who need welfare and medicaid out of luck. That's because many of them do not have web or fax access.

"You don't cut 230 employees and be able to be more efficient, that just doesn't make sense, not unless you have a good plan in place which they don't," HGEA deputy executive director Nora Nomura said.

A DHS worker who spoke to Hawaii News Now just got his layoff notice after nearly 20 years on the job. He wanted to remain anonymous because he feared backlash.

"It's disheartening to see, these things happen, but we're hoping that the Legislature will look at this very carefully, help the people in the community that really need help, by doing that they'll be helping the state workers too," he said.

State Representative John Mizuno is the chairman of the Human Services Committee. He feels DHS has moved too fast in pushing this program.

"If we just throw this together in a matter of 2-3 months, it could be devastating to the economy and people of Hawaii," he said.

One of Representative Mizuno's bills to stop any reorganization until a task force could examine it, passed through a committee late Monday night.

It still needs to pass the full House before moving on.

"That's what we want, is for them to take a step back and think about what they're doing to not only the workers but to the whole state, because this will affect all of us," Nomura said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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