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Keep ‘Face-to-Face’

Legislature stops DHS reorganization.

The past three months have been a whirlwind of rumors, letters to government agencies and both joy and anger over the Department of Human Resources (DHS) reorganization plan.

Senate Bill 2650, CD 1, which halts the closure of 31 DHS eligibility offices statewide, passed in state congress on April 15. It awaits approval or veto by Governor Lingle by April 29th.

Before SB 2650 passed, hundreds rallied around the state to protest the closure. Molokai held their own rally last Friday evening, with about 30 people attending with protest signs.

DHS Director Lillian Koller has said the reorganization will help recipients get their benefits faster, without having to wait for months just to get an appointment. DHS said the plan would save taxpayers around $8 million, but Koller said efficiency is the purpose of the plan.
(For more on Koller’s views, see her editorial below.)

“This is a year we have to tighten the belts – but how tight are you going to go?” asked Vespoli.

Nearing the End
Senate Bill 2650 does not eliminate DHS’ reorganization plan completely – it sets up a pilot program, where only offices on Oahu will be shut down in lieu of its already-running call center. The bill “sunsets,” or expires, in June 2011, giving all parties time to evaluate how well the pilot program worked.

If the bill is vetoed, the state closures would eliminate 228 positions, including four on Molokai, but those employees with more than two years experience could be “bumped” to different offices within DHS.

Molokai has several offices that offer similar services that would not close, such as First to Work and Childcare Connections.

But many DHS recipients say it’s not over till it’s over, and are rallying until the bill is passed.

Nora Nomura, Deputy Director of Hawaii Government Employees Association – the DHS union – said Lingle could veto the bill, but many expect a Congressional override. If the bill is vetoed, Congress needs a two-thirds majority to override the veto by the end of this Legislative session, Thursday, April 29.

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