Honolulu, Hawaii – A controversial Department of Human Services proposal to consolidate public assistance services may meet a stumbling block in the form of Senate Bill 2650, a house draft to be discussed at the House Human Services Committee.
The amendment, which seeks to stop the DHS from closing all but two eligibility offices across Hawaii (one in Honolulu and one in Hilo), is being introduced by Rep. John Mizuno (District 30 Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights, Fort Shafter), who is also the House Human Service Chair. It is being heard on Thursday, March 11 at 9:30 a.m. in Conference Room 329 of the Hawaii State Capitol.
According to a Mizuno press release, the bill “prohibits the use of private contractors and vendors for intake and eligibility of welfare or public assistance services in Hawaii until a report is completed by a task force to determine the impact to the 300,000 needy Hawaii residents and whether any federal regulation or policy will be violated by the EPOD proposal.”
EPOD is short Eligibility Processing Operations Division, a proposed new division that the state says will streamline operations by to handling all benefit applications, ongoing cases, and renewals for the entire state.
“I am shocked by the proposed plan by DHS to eliminate 232 employees who provide vital services to over 300,000 needy residents,” said Rep. Mizuno in the media release. “I find that the department failed to inform or work with its employees prior to this proposed plan. The department also failed to study the adverse impact to Hawaii’s needy population or determine if such a plan, which took years to implement in Florida, would violate any federal regulations or policies.”
Sanford Chun, a Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) representative, said that laying off the eligibility workers would “devastate an already severely understaffed department, one of the hardest hit by hundreds of layoffs last year.”
“Combine that with an increase in the demand for services provided by DHS as a result of the current economic downturn,” continued Chun in the media release, “and the state may find itself in non-compliance with federal or state laws, rules and subject to sanctions if eligibility functions are not performed in a timely manner. There is potential for tremendous negative impact and harm to the public served by the department.”
A few weeks ago, Big Island Video News covered a tense meeting in Hilo, where DHS employees confronted thier department heads about the EPOD proposal.