Wednesday, May 05, 2010
How the battle to save social service applications was won in Hawaii’s legislature
by Larry Geller
Rep. John Mizuno, the author of the language in SB2650, CD1 that prevented the Department of Human Services from shutting down public assistance office in all 31 locations statewide, circulated a news release today. It’s a good explication of why another of Governor Lingle’s attempts to slash human services is against the public interest and how and why it was stopped.
DHS wanted to handle applications through call centers instead of with in-person assistance. It would be just a matter of time before the state thought about outsourcing those call centers as well. (See short article, Opportunity to teach Hawaiian language in Mumbai, 4/2/2010).
You’ll remember that Disappeared News highlighted Lingle’s Christmas-time layoff of the last standing employee at the Molokai Clubhouse, which would have shut down that facility, the only such service on the island. After protests, the employee was extended on December 31, just a day before he was to be terminated. That was one facility, and good thing it was saved. This is a whole system, and good thing it was saved.
Lingle would certainly have been able to slash social services by cutting the people who assist applicants in signing up for them. But that’s probably not legal, it seems. According to Rep. Mizuno, here’s what was not good about the scheme:
1. United States Department of Agriculture provided a letter dated March 9, 2010 with serious concerns and possible federal violations of Koller's proposed EPOD [Eligibility Processing Operations Division] plan. Koller failed to respond. Possible violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – requires that State agencies provide language services to limited English proficient applicants or recipients of public assistance benefits. Also, federal law confirms that a State must provide for a "face-to-face" interview to any household which request one.
A. Risk losing $15 million dollars in Federal public assistance via noncompliance with USDA policy.
B. Risk losing benefits for 115,000 Hawaii residents participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamp program.
2. DHS Welfare Fraud Branch Chief Eric Weyenberg explained that fraud will be rampant if EPOD is implemented. Hawaii County Prosecutor Rick Dammerville stated that EPOD was an unworkable plan and that law enforcement would not be able to prosecute fraud cases because they would not have proof of the caller, internet or fax user who illegally collected public assistance.
3. DHS SNAP Administrator Linda Stark was never informed of the EPOD plan and was against DHS Director's plan, without proper consultation.
4. Over 7,100 DHS employees & recipients provided a statement that they have "no confidence" in Director Koller and that they were against EPOD.
5. A legislative briefing was conducted in every single county (Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Big Island) and all counties overwhelmingly opposed EPOD.
6. An email to selected DHS employees from Koller, dated March 15, 2010, 3:08 p.m. states, "Hi everybody, Director Koller is requesting recommendations and comments for EPOD operations. Please email to me suggestions from yourself and staff by noon tomorrow, Tuesday, 3/16/10." THIS EMAIL IS NOT MEANINGFUL CONSULTATION WITH STAFF AND DHS EMPLOYEES. Shortly thereafter, Director Koller sent out termination notices to 228 DHS employees.
7. The DHS Director did not have a plan when she launched her EPOD campaign to essentially close every single public assistance office statewide. A brave employee provided a copy of the SOLICITATION TITLE: ELIGIBILITY PROCESSING OPERATIONS DIVISION with a solicitation date of issue: Feb. 25, 2010. Expert testimony at the Director's request to the Legislature on EPOD. Assistance in communicating with the media and public. Assistance in preliminary planning of office configuration.
Assistance in more fully defining work flow processes and procedures; and Assistance in determining help with the application process and other assistance required regarding EPOD.
On Thursday, April 29, 2010, in a veto override to continue essential human services to over 300,000 needy residents of Hawaii, the Senate voted 23 to 2 and the House voted 47 to 4 in favor of the veto override for SB2650, CD1, which exempts neighbor islands of any move toward the reorganization by DHS' proposed Eligibility Processing Operations Division (EPOD). The legislation would also require a review process pursuant to Chapter 91 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which includes a public hearing and administrative rule making process, before further movement of EPOD on Oahu. Chapter 91 would ensure that DHS is in compliance with State and Federal Law regarding EPOD.
Also from Rep. Mizuno’s press release:
Rep. Mizuno also noted concerns from the United States Department of Agriculture Regional Director, Dennis Stewart, who informed his office on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 that the DHS Director has failed to answer their inquires on their proposed EPOD plan. According to Mizuno's office, USDA Regional Director Stewart stated by phone, "No, no, no, we have not received a response letter from Director Koller regarding our concerns on EPOD. We understand the worry this has caused to the people of Hawaii, which is why we have our eye on this EPOD plan. We are very concerned and will follow up with a second letter soon."
For more information, or to thank Rep. Mizuno, call his office at 586-6050.