House District 13

Archive for the ‘Mele in the News’ Category

Salvation Army officials aim to quell panic over looming welfare closures

In Mele in the News on April 16, 2010 at 3:17 am

From The Maui News

Thanks to Claudine San Nicolas for her excellent reporting.

KAHULUI – While a measure in the state Legislature would prohibit welfare office closures on Neighbor Islands, Salvation Army officials on Maui have been assuring panic-stricken clients that they won’t be abandoned when they seek public assistance.

Emotions have been running high since late last month when the state Department of Human Services first announced layoffs of more than 200 eligibility workers statewide. Many of the employees assist people in applying for government programs such as food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and also known as SNAP), Medicaid, cash assistance and child care money for families who cannot afford it.

Dan Merritt, Salvation Army’s SNAP coordinator for Maui, said homeless people and adults in low-income families expressed anxiety that the layoffs of state employees might slow down the issuance of the debit cards they receive through SNAP to buy food.

“They’re actually coming to me in a panic, and I have to assure them that the SNAP program will stay in effect and everything humanly possible will be done to ensure that they get food on the table,” Merritt said.

SNAP assistance currently comes in the form of electronic benefits that can be used like debit cards in most grocery stores.

On Maui, the program has up to 29 state eligibility workers. There also is one SNAP employee on Lanai and three on Molokai. All of the SNAP employees have received layoff notices that take effect June 30. Some of the employees might lose their positions but still have jobs depending on seniority and whether they qualify to assume another position.

DHS public information officer Toni Schwartz said clients and SNAP applicants should be able to access benefits more easily and perhaps faster when the department’s modernization plan takes effect Oct. 1.

“People have actually gained options,” Schwartz said, pointing out that low-income families and disadvantaged individuals can apply for benefits by e-mail, through fax and/or through an online application process.

Currently, applicants have to undergo a face-to-face interview while also providing information on a 13-page application.

The Salvation Army received a $59,000 grant from the Hawai’i Community Foundation as well as a $33,000 contract this year from the state to assist individuals and families with the application process.

The Salvation Army is one of several providers contracted by the state to conduct field work with potential SNAP clients.

Since January, as many as 112 Maui families have prequalified for benefits and approximately 374 men, women and children have received benefits with the Salvation Army’s guidance through the application process, Merritt said.

Many clients are intimidated by the 13-page-long application and its requirements for documentation, he said.

“That’s why our assistance is critical or else some people don’t bother to apply at all,” he said.

According to documents supplied by Merritt, the average monthly benefit per household for the federally funded SNAP is $427 per month. Food stamp benefits in Hawaii are more than $322 million annually. Approximately 62,852 households, and 125,052 people in Hawaii receive SNAP benefits.

Of the $322 million in benefits distributed statewide, about $17 million in benefits were issued on Maui in 2009.

Schwartz said she does not believe that the layoffs will negatively affect the SNAP program nor will they mean that private providers assisting with the application process will get any busier.

She said potential applicants also can visit their library for free and file online applications there. Others who can get access to a phone and call a state worker who will be either stationed on Oahu or the Big Island for help with application process.

“I don’t think people need to worry as much as they’re worrying,” Schwartz said.

Merritt said his office stands ready for individuals who insist or prefer face-to-face assistance.

“I believe we’re going to have to pick up the slack,” he said.

A vote on Senate Bill 2650, which would exempt Neighbor Islands from welfare office closures, is expected today.

State Rep. Mele Carroll, who represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai residents, maintains that residents need in-person access to officials processing welfare applications, particularly residents who bilingual or don’t have access to the Internet.

The state Department of Human Services wants to close 31 welfare offices statewide to save $8 million a year and streamline benefit processing into two new call centers in Honolulu and Hilo.


Neighbor Island Exemption Proposed for DHS Reorganization

In Mele in the News on April 14, 2010 at 1:14 am
Posted by prgnews in Maui Today on 04 12th, 2010 | no responses

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Supporting information courtesy Office of Rep. Mele Carroll)


After a weekend visit to the island of Lanai, House Speaker Calvin Say is recommending that the reorganization of the Eligibility Processing Operations Division occur only on Oahu where access to services is not as limited, and not the neighbor islands.  The state Department of Human Services plans to lay off 228 workers and close 31 offices, including those providing services to welfare, Medquest and food stamp beneficiaries on Maui.

Rep. Mele Carroll of Maui speaks to Lana’i residents about the planned DHS cuts. Courtesy Photo: Office of Rep. Mele Carroll. 

Representative Mele Carroll (D-13) of Maui attended the meeting with Say and fellow Rep. Angus McKelvey on Saturday, April 10, 2010.

“It is not right to impose a new system without any consultation with the people who will be affected by it the most,” said Carroll.  “I want to thank the Lana`i residents who came to meet us on Saturday and spoke out about their concerns regarding the closure of the Lana`i office.  Together we have inspired a measure that could save our most vulnerable residents from losing the benefits they so desperately need,” she said.

The recommendation includes a suggested proviso in Senate Bill 2650, preventing EPOD reorganization from affecting neighbor island offices.  The present draft of the bill authorizes the governor to implement a pilot program in counties with a population exceeding 500,000.  According to Carroll, only Honolulu County currently meets the criteria. The State House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled to vote on SB 2650 for third reading on Wednesday, April 14, 2010.

“Citizens on O`ahu always have the option of coming to the Capitol directly to discuss their concerns, but citizens in my district often feel they are isolated from the Legislature and from the decision-making process,” said Carroll.  “I’m happy that the House leadership, specifically Speaker Calvin Say  recognizes the importance of this issue and is willing to take the time out of their busy schedules to acknowledge Lana`i and hear its citizens’ concerns,” she said.

Among the chief reasons for the visit was to give House leaders the opportunity to see how the Department of Human Services runs on Lanai, more importantly the neighbor islands.  “There is a huge difference between Lana`i and O`ahu in terms of how DHS workers communicate with their clients,” said Carroll.  “On Lana`i, face-to-face contact is crucial.”

“Many of the residents don’t have internet access and there is only one public fax on the island,” Carroll said.  “It is very important to them that they know the person handling their paperwork—their lives, essentially.  About 58% of the population are of Filipino ancestry, many of whom came to Lana`i work on the plantations, so it is very important that a worker be present to explain exactly what is required,” she said.

Bill would stop Hawaii welfare office closures

In Mele in the News on April 14, 2010 at 1:12 am

From the Maui News, find full story here:

HONOLULU – The planned closure of 31 welfare offices and layoffs of 228 state employees would be put on hold under a measure advancing through the state Legislature.

A conference committee passed the bill 6-1 on Monday as a way to stave off the Lingle administration’s welfare eligibility office consolidation proposal.

The state Department of Human Services wants to shutter the welfare offices to save $8 million and streamline benefit processing into two new call centers in Honolulu and Hilo.

But the plan wouldn’t go forward under the bill pushed by lawmakers worried that the needy would lose in-person access to services.

The measure prohibits welfare office closures on the Neighbor Islands and requires public hearings before they could be consolidated on Oahu.

State Rep. Mele Carroll (D-East Maui, Molokai, Lanai) said in a news release that the state House and Senate will vote on the measure Wednesday.

She visited Lanai on Saturday with House Speaker Calvin Say and Rep. Angus McKelvey (D-West Maui, North Kihei), who chairs the House Committee on Economic Revitalization, Business, and Military Affairs.

Carroll said she initially arranged to hold discussions with DHS employees on Lanai but was quickly joined by DHS clients. The gathering drew about 40 people, many of whom expressed worry about the new DHS plan.

“Many of the residents don’t have Internet access, and there is only one public fax on the island,” Carroll explained. “It is very important to them that they know the person handling their paperwork-their lives, essentially.”

She said that many island residents are bilingual and having someone available in person would be important to help them understand the intricacies of the system.

“It is very important that a worker be present to explain exactly what is required,” she said.

The representative from the 13th District believes the visit to Lanai saved the offices from the reorganization program. She also complained about the lack of consultation with the clients during the development of the reorganization plan.

Native Hawaiian issues must remain at the forefront

In Mele in the News, Mele's Words on April 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

For Molokai Dispatch This Legislative Session has brought to the forefront many Hawaiian issues thanks in part to active participation by the community and an increasing effort to educate our lawmakers.

Last week, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Student Association collected 1,042 signatures of UH Hilo students urging the Hawai‘i State Legislature to pass a moratorium to prohibit the State and the Lingle Administration from selling “ceded lands.”

This legislative session also saw Hawai‘i’s commitment to ensuring taro security when the House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs received over 500 testimonies in support of a bill to prohibit the development, testing, propagation, release, importation, planting or growing of genetically modified taro in the State of Hawai‘i.

As part of the Hawaiian Caucus Day celebration on March 24, 2009, an O‘ahu Taro Festival hosted by KAHEA and Na Kahu o Haloa in collaboration with the Legislative Hawaiian Caucus was held on the ground floor rotunda of the State Capitol. Hundreds arrived to watch taro farmers from throughout the state and participate in the largest unified gathering of Ku‘i Kalo to celebrate Hawai‘i’s living taro traditions.

In a floor presentation during session on the day of the Hawaiian Caucus Day event, I introduced House Resolution 292, which honors the Hawaiian Civic Club of Honolulu’s 90th anniversary and the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs’ 50th anniversary. For decades, these outstanding organizations have preserved Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole Pi‘ikoi’s vision to help Hawai‘i’s young people secure an education that would enable them to compete successfully in the new cultural environment introduced to Hawaii in the 19th century. The Hawaiian Civic Clubs have generated thousands of dollars for higher education opportunities for Hawaiians while perpetuating Hawaiian formal elegance.

There are many other issues that I have taken on to address this session, such as: issuing a commemorative stamp honoring Prince Kuhio; requesting the University of Hawai‘i to meet with the Kanaka Maoli Council on its Sustainability Plan; developing a Kupuna honorary degree program; urging the counties to adopt measures that provide real property tax relief for Kuleana lands; supporting the discussions for a Hawaiian Constitutional Convention; requesting the Department of Human Services to determine the feasibility of increasing Foster Board Payment Rates; providing adequate funding for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; urging the President of the United States to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; developing a plan to implement replicas of Hawaiian Hale on the State Capitol lawn; asking the University of Hawai‘i to study the feasibility of planting non-GMO kalo in the reflecting pool that surrounds the State Capitol Building; requesting the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to convene a working group to review the system and procedures for the review of Native Hawaiian burial sites; and requesting that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs contract with a nationally respected and objective consulting firm to conduct a study of disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians in Hawai‘i’s criminal justice system.

The following bills that were referred to the House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs that have made it through crossover, will now be deliberated in conference, where lawmakers will work out the differences between the House and Senate drafts as the session comes to a close. The following measures relating to Native Hawaiian issues that will go to conference are:

House Bill 899 – Clarifies and strengthens the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ bond authority
House Bill 900 – Appropriates funds for the operating budget of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
House Bill 1015 – Enables the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to begin construction on affordable housing projects without having the full and final amount of the capital costs on hand at the beginning of the project.
House Bill 1663 – Prohibits genetic modification of Hawaiian taro in Hawai‘i.
House Bill 1665 – Prohibits the sale of public lands on which government-owned fishponds are located.
Senate Bill 602 – Authorizes funds to support performing arts and restoration of works of art for Bishop Museum and ‘Iolani Palace.
Senate Bill 995 – Resolves claims and disputes relating to the portion of income and proceeds from the lands of the public land trust for use by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs between 1978 and 2008.
Senate Bill 1268 – Permits the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to assign or transfer county affordable housing credits.
Senate Bill 1677 – Requires majority vote of the House and Senate to disapprove the sale or exchange of state-held lands to non-state entities and requires community briefing prior to the sale or exchange.

It is my goal as the Chair of the House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs to bring to the forefront the many issues relating to native Hawaiians that have been shelved for years. Through our process we will continue to educate, bring awareness, participate in meaningful conversations as well as find solutions to the many unresolved concerns impacting native Hawaiians. It is time to work together, take action and get results. “A’ohe hana nui ka alu’ia.” “No task is too big when done together.” I’m ready for the task, let’s unite and stand together.