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National research shows that a large percentage of Hawaii residents who are eligible for SNAP are not receiving benefits. More aggressive outreach could be worth $50 million to $150 million annual spending in the state, if all those eligible folks signed up, according to the research. The task rightly lies mainly with the Department of Human Services, which administers SNAP at the state level. DHS supports the intent of HB 1347, but understandably prefers that lawmakers support its budget request as the avenue to boost SNAP, including through staffing and technological improvements.

Department of Human Services Director Rachael Wong said in written testimony last week her department supports the "intent" of House Bill 1347 to expand SNAP outreach, but asked lawmakers instead to support a DHS request for "staffing and modernization" efforts to continue to make other improvements in the SNAP program.

"Our top priority is moving forward with our plan to streamline what we're doing with IT, building on the technology that we've already put in place with our platforms, investing in our people here, moving quickly with what we're doing with Med-QUEST and our social services division, BESSD (Benefit, Employment and Support Services Division) and our public assistance."

To begin with, DHS is paying for the audit, so there's agency buy-in. Second, the director acknowledged the public-perception problem that hangs over KOLEA — but rather than dismiss the importance of this factor, she said, "It made me recognize there was a need for facts. We need a third party to come in to be able to assess the process, to assess our product and to assess where we are."

"I recognize there's a lot of public confusion about what Kolea is and what the (Hawaii Health Connector) is," said Wong, adding that the audit will be paid for by DHS. "It made me recognize there was a need for facts. There's all this, for lack of a better word, chatter that's out there. We need a third party to come in to be able to assess the process, to assess our product and to assess where we are."

Name in the News – Rachael Wong

Posted on Mar 13, 2015 in NEWS

"In alignment with the (Gov. David Ige) administration, but also just personally with who I am, this is about pulling back the curtain on government," Wong said earlier this month at her first meeting with the Star-Advertiser editorial board. "And it's not just to say these are how our policies and decisions are made, but it's about engaging with stakeholders, whether that's legislators or the media or the people we serve. It's engaging those folks so that it's an ongoing conversation, so by the time the decisions get made, it's not a surprise."

At DHS, there are a million dots to connect. “DHS overall is certainly comprehensive,” says Wong. “It covers almost all of human experience, especially that of our most vulnerable neighbors.” Her list includes foster children, the homeless, immigrants, the disabled, seniors and the poor, and the services include welfare, food benefits, Medicaid, public housing, youth corrections, and the commissions on the Status of Women and on Fatherhood. Wong feels she’s in the right job at the right time. “By nature I’m a connector. I feel affirmed by interconnectivity. I’m alive because of someone’s gift. … I love it when people bring the resources they bring.”

Cathy Betts, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women (HSCSW) was interviewed on Hawaii Public Radio, The Conversation.  The March 10, 2015 program segment entitled, The Best and Worst Cities for Women in 2015, runs 10 minutes 11 seconds. To see The Wallet Hub survey of the best and worst  ...
Read More In the News: Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made funds available that enable the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide eligible farmers markets and direct marketing farmers with free electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Administered through the Farmer’s Market Coalition (FMC), the Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program expands access to fresh produce for SNAP beneficiaries and expands commerce options for farmers and farmers markets.

Senate Committee Confirms DHS Director

Posted on Mar 6, 2015 in NEWS

Honolulu, HI – Members of the State Senate Committee on Human Services and Housing today voted to confirm gubernatorial nominee Rachael Wong, DrPH as the director of the Department of Human Services (DHS). “Dr. Wong’s strong experience and compassion to improve community health makes her the perfect candidate for this critically important position,” said Senator ...
Read More Senate Committee Confirms DHS Director