January 15, 2019

Pritzker Administration puts a hold on Rauner’s closure of DHS office

Through their union, AFSCME, human services employees spoke out against a push by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) to close its office—known as a family community resource center—in Havana, the Mason County seat in central Illinois. Now the decision is being revisited.

According to state Rep. Norine Hammond, the office will remain open, at least for the time-being.

“I received the good news that DHS is keeping Family Community Resource Center open and their closure is now on hold. The new administration would like time to assess operation costs statewide,” Hammond said in a statement. “My hope is that they keep the center open indefinitely and I will continue to work for that.”

The DHS office closure would reduce access to medical assistance, food stamps, cash grants, job placement help and referrals to other supportive services for the roughly 2,500 people on its caseload, including struggling families, seniors, people with disabilities, the unemployed and others in poverty.

On average 255 clients visit the Havana office each month. Because the county has no public transportation and many clients lack internet access, are elderly or have severe disabilities, the office closure would pose significant barriers to getting the help they need. With no office in Mason County, clients would have to travel to Pekin, Lincoln, Springfield or Fulton County for assistance.

“We’re a smaller office so we answer the phone, devote more attention and provide good service in a timely way,” human services caseworker Cassandra Otto said. “People here like, know and trust us.

“DHS says people should use an 800 number or the internet, but the people we serve, especially elderly people and very poor people, they don’t have internet and they don’t want to call an 800 number,” Otto added. “They get personal service from us here in the community.”

Closing the office would hurt Havana’s economy, too, workers say. “Not only would our jobs move but the hundreds of people who come here a month wouldn’t be coming here anymore,” Otto pointed out. “The smaller communities don’t have a pharmacy, a grocery store, so our clients do that in Havana when they’re here. They buy gas here, they go to the dollar store. Take away our office, take away their reason to come to Havana every month, you take away what they spend in this community.”

The state would gain little or no cost savings from the closure. The Mason County office’s five current employees—nine when fully staffed—would be transferred. Only the office rent, a scant $2,300 a month, would be cut.

AFSCME has not received the official notice the state is required to provide when an office is closed or jobs relocated, yet DHS management has taken steps to move forward with the closure anyway, including sending boxes to Havana and telling workers to pack for the move.

“The Department of Human Services should halt this closure immediately,” AFSCME Local 51 President Lori Gladson said. “There’s no good reason to close the Havana office and many reasons to keep it open for the people of this community and all of Mason County. AFSCME is going to keep on speaking up for what’s right and working to keep this office open for the public good.”

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