Hilo, Hawaii – Video by David Corrigan
Employees under the Department of Human services voiced their concerns, face to face, with one of their own department heads during a sometimes heated meeting in Hilo on Wednesday.
Department of Human Services Deputy Director Henry Oliva and national consultant Sandie Hoback briefed the Governor’s Council of Neighbor Island Advisors for East Hawaii about the proposed eligibility reorganization and reduction-in-force within the department. The meeting, held at the Old Sun Sun Lau Building on Kinoole Street, was well attended by the employees who will be directly affected by the proposal, many of whom caught wind of the briefing only hours before.
The State of Hawaii is proposing to create the Eligibility Processing Operations Division (EPOD) within the Department, which would streamline the processing of applications and renewals for public assistance and save taxpayers money. EPOD is modeled after the ACCESS Florida initiative, which the state says has gained national attention for its efficiency and for satisfaction ratings among both customers and government employees.
“Given the unprecedented rapid and steep economic downturn since 2008”, said executive driector Randy Perreira in a January request for consultation to the Hawaii Government Employees Association, “soaring State revenue shortfalls, and increased applications and enrollment in DHS public assistance programs, it is imperative that we change the way DHS conducts eligibility functions as soon as possible. We must produce significant improvement in customer service, timely and accurate work productivity, and general fund savings.”
The state says the eligibility functions are the required means by which members of the public can qualify to receive DHS benefits, including but not limited to financial and nutrition assistance, like food stamps, and Medicaid health insurance.
The state says the proposed new model would create two centralized “Processing Center” sites in Honolulu and Hilo.
“Locating one of the two Processing Centers in Hilo would not only produce some much-needed economic stimulus to Hilo,” said the Department in the consultation letter, “it would result in fewer job losses in an area where it is more difficult to find other employment.”
The site for the Hilo Processing Center has yet to be determined.
The HGEA has said that 200 state workers could lose their jobs under the proposal, and at least 50 eligibility offices statewide could close.
The workers in attendance, many of whom belong to the HGEA, believe they will face layoffs under the proposal, which is still being negotiated. They also believe such a streamlined initiative will take the “human” out of human services. The meeting was their chance to speak out.