DHS cost-cutting could include 200 jobs, union says
Lawmakers raised concerns today about proposed cost-cutting changes to how the Department of Human Services processes applications for key social services, including food stamps and MedQuest, which could trigger more than 200 layoffs of eligibility workers, a union representative said.
Nora Nomura, of HGEA, said the layoffs are part of a planned reorganization, which would close more than 50 eligibility offices statewide.
The eligibility offices would be replaced with two processing centers in Honolulu and Hilo, where workers would communicate with applicants by e-mail, letter or phone only, Nomura said.
Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the Human Services Committee, said in a briefing on the changes this morning that the reorganization was “shocking.”
“It’s actually deplorable, what’s being done here,” Mizuno said.
A DHS representative did not attend the briefing this morning.
But DHS did outline some of the changes in a Jan. 29 letter to HGEA, saying, “The new model would centralize the initial and ongoing eligibility determination and benefit delivery for all these programs into two ‘processing center’ sites within a new unified division.”
DHS also says that “consolidating and streamlining eligibility functions” has worked well in other states, including Florida.
The letter does not say how many people will be laid off as part of the reorganization.
In a statement, DHS Director Lillian Koller said, “The Department of Human Services (DHS) and all other state agencies are always looking for ways to better serve the public by improving operations in cost-effective ways. That’s why DHS has been trying for nearly two weeks to arrange a meeting with the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) to discuss ideas for streamlining the approval process for Medicaid, nutrition benefits and other forms of assistance.”
She added, “This consultation has barely begun and no decisions have been made. It’s unfortunate that the union has chosen a public forum to speak prematurely with legislators and alarm DHS employees about potential layoffs when we haven’t even met with HGEA representatives to consider the various options, which, again, we have tried to do on numerous occasions.”