The State Department of Human Services plans to save millions of dollars by closing down dozens of offices in rural areas of the state. The plan is for DHS to shut down about half of its field offices statewide and instead have employees work from home.
“We’ve decided that we are going to close some buildings, some real-estate within our footprint.We have 92 offices today so it’s roughly half of those will close. But it’s important to note that we’re prioritizing service first and our workforce above all else. So, no one is losing their jobs. No furloughs. Nothing like that,” said DHS Director Justin Brown.
Brown said response to the COVID crisis has proven it can be done.
“Eighty six percent of the workforce either indicated the same level of productivity or a higher level of productivity in this telework environment,” he said. “Our online traffic just went through the roof, so productivity continued to be fantastic. We are working SNAP claims and all of those other productivity measures just as efficiently as we were before but doing it remotely.”
In addition to food benefits like SNAP, DHS provides help for the elderly and folks with disabilities and investigates child abuse and neglect.
“You do child abuse investigations from the field. And so that will not change. Nothing there will change. It’s just really how and where you do the paperwork on the backend changes some,” Brown said.
One child welfare worker we spoke with, who asked not to be identified, said that’s simply not true.
“I have grave concerns because I live in a rural area and I service a rural area. They can’t get to a major city hub,” she said. “Yes, DHS has these online services but a lot of our families don’t have access or don’t understand it…I understand it’s going to be for financial purposes, but it is seriously going to affect the families that we serve.”
With the move DHS hopes to save about $6 million. That will go toward the agencies $28 million budget shortfall.