Bill to save 200 DHS jobs passes in House and Senate - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Bill to save 200 DHS jobs passes in House and Senate

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers have made a move to block streamlining and layoffs at the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The full Senate and House voted to pass Senate Bill 2650, which bans reorganization on the neighbor islands. It also bans any such plans on Oahu without several steps, including public hearings, and time for unions to file grievances.

DHS has been under backlash since announcing its plans to reorganize last month. The plan would consolidate eligibility offices to two, one in Hilo and one in Honolulu. The idea was to speed up the application process for people applying for food stamps and more. It would also allow applications over the phone and for the first time, over the Internet, as well as save the state $8,000,000 a year.

But workers on neighbor islands were concerned that people would be cut off from face-to-face help. They also expressed concerns that a lot of Hawaii's most needy do not have access to the Internet, or even phones.

The governor may veto the bill. But she must do so by April 28, giving lawmakers one day to override her during the regular session.

DHS Director Lillian Koller released this statement:

"This is a sad day for the neediest men, women and children of Hawaii.

The reason we created the Eligibility Processing Operations Division last month is to deliver Medicaid, welfare, food stamps and other public benefits to our customers as quickly and conveniently as possible.

If Senate Bill 2650 becomes law, it will not harm our customers on Oahu. They will enjoy the advantages of a 21st century processing system that enables people to apply for benefits online, by phone, mail, fax and in-person.

The customers who will be harmed are those living on the Neighbor Islands, where the backlog of applications for public assistance grows larger every day. Conditions are especially bad in Maui County, where people are already waiting three to four months for scheduled appointments - just to get started applying for essential aid.

The majority party Legislators who voted for this bill are trying to preserve an antiquated and inefficient processing system for one reason - it requires lots of government workers to do the job.

It is shameful to put the interests of government workers above the needs of our customers.

Our mission at the Department of Human Services is to help the most vulnerable among us by giving them fast and easy access to the food, medical care and other benefits our customers are entitled to receive."

Rep. John Mizuno, (D) Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley said, "What Koller wanted to do is close every single unit and every single office, all 31 offices and open up only two call centers, one in Hilo and one on Oahu. If you have over 300,000 people that need benefits, our most needy people, two call centers will not do it."

Opponents of DHS' plan say it puts the state at risk of violating federal guidelines which could mean a loss of $15 million in federal money.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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