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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DHS proposal will increase social calamity

By Randy Perreira

The Advertiser editorial staff set a new low in suggesting in its April 1 editorial that, despite its obvious flaws, Lillian Koller's proposed reorganization of the Department of Human Services should be given a try. Frankly, given the concerns raised by both social services organizations and benefit recipients, the editorial opinion expressed is disappointing, irresponsible and downright frightening.

Koller's plan to shutter welfare offices and limit access to two physical locations is ill-planned at best, mean-spirited at worst. The individuals who rely on these services are among the most vulnerable and underprivileged in our community.

Limiting their physical access while expanding access via the Internet and telephone is a travesty the reality is that many of these individuals, as the editorial acknowledges, lack the ability to use these means of communication. Implementing such a technological change for business registration or obtaining permits is one thing, as most individuals who seek such services likely have telephone and computer access.

I for one, however, don't see the likelihood of elderly clients or homeless families using laptops and cell phones to obtain support services. Given that the services and support provided are life-sustaining and not a luxury for the recipients, it is irresponsible for the editors to suggest that the state should proceed. As a result, these at-risk individuals will likely go without assistance, creating greater social calamity in our community.

While there is always merit to seek efficiency and improved workflow, toying with the lives of vulnerable citizens is not an area for idle experimentation. The change proposed by Koller would be best viewed as a long-term and phased-in effort. Successful outcomes occur when line staff and management are involved and allowed to provide input during the redesign process, and staff and clients have ample time to adjust to a new method of offering support.

Unfortunately, Koller is seeking to blast this change through in her last days on the job. Her motives are unclear, but the legacy she leaves behind is easy to see a reduction in the benefit rolls, as individuals who lack access drop out of the system, likely resulting in increased human suffering out of the public's eye. A sad legacy indeed.

It is our hope that sanity will prevail and that our Legislature will take steps to protect our vulnerable citizens by requiring a more deliberate pace of change at DHS. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have the means to provide for ourselves and our families, have an obligation to help those who are less fortunate. We will fail as a community if we boldly ignore the negative impact on people's lives and rush this change without proper consideration.

Sadly, the Lingle administration seems more smitten with studying the impact of a rail system on our community, rather than determining the impact of the proposed DHS changes on our needy. Hawai'i has a long history of providing support for our most disadvantaged let's not abandon that history for the sake of experimenting with "efficiency and modernization."