Saving office of human services a victory for all

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By Dave Bell

From the beginning, it was a decision that didn’t even meet the state’s own criteria for closing offices. The client base was higher than the minimum set by the agency for closure and the driving distances to alternative Department of Human Services offices were greater than the standard set by the agency.

It just didn’t make sense.

Fortunately, the Fayette County residents affected by the proposed closure of the local public aid office – clients as well as employees – made enough noise that DHS officials this week reversed field and announced that the Vandalia location will remain open.

It was a gratifying example of a grassroots effort that actually worked. The affected people here made hundreds of calls to DHS officials, the governor’s office and our representatives in Springfield. And those representatives presented our case vigorously during an appropriations hearing last week. Bottom line, we had a legitimate gripe, and we made sure the right people knew it.

“Department officials were looking for budget cuts, and they put together a list of 17 offices they could close due to a low volume of clients and the clients’ access to other (DHS) offices,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville). “But I think in their exuberance to make budget cuts, they added a couple of other offices, not having an understanding of the impact on the people who use those offices.”

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) praised the local DHS employees for their efforts to preserve the current level of services for their clients.

“They were truly concerned about the way they were going to care for their clients,” he said. “It’s a pretty good day, and we need more days like this in Springfield.”

There are two take-away lessons from this. First, we need to be vigilant about decisions and rulings being made by our elected officials that will negatively affect us. And second, when we see such actions, we need to get involved – and raise a little cain if necessary.

If the politicians and bureaucrats know they’ll face a vigorous fight from their constituents, they’ll be more likely to think twice before trying to pull another fast one here.