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A state office that is ostensibly designed to help people who are down on their luck or have specials needs will become inaccessible to many of those people if a recently announced plan is enacted.
Late last month, the Illinois Department of Human Services announced its plans to close 17 of its rural offices – including the one in Vandalia that serves Fayette County residents – as a cost-savings move. State officials said that Fayette County residents would be served out of an office in Centralia if the proposal goes into effect on July 16 as planned.
Such consolidation may save a little money on office leases, but it will be a major inconvenience for the people who depend on the services provided by the DHS office (formerly known as the Department of Public Aid). Those people would be forced to drive another 30 miles to the Centralia office. And for residents of the far northern regions of Fayette County, the distance to Centralia would be well over 50 miles.
Some simply wouldn’t be able to get to the office that is supposed to help with programs such as long-term care services, disability assistance, Medicaid, All Kids, food stamps and Temporary Aid for Needy Families.
Additionally, the Department of Human Services seems to be violating its own criteria for closing offices. In information released by the agency, it said offices would be closed if caseloads were less than 2,000 persons (the local office serves 2,600) and if the new office would be within 40 miles (it would be much farther than that for many clients). Further savings could be realized by renegotiating the lease on the current facility or finding a new location for the local office.
With an unemployment rate exceeding 11 percent, Fayette County undoubtedly has more than its share of people needing the services of the DHS office. Closing the local office makes no sense. Any money that might be saved will be offset by the harm done to those who most need the services.
Our local political representatives have registered their concern about the proposed closure. They need to hear from us. And, together, we need to make enough noise that the agency changes its mind.