The state department with the largest operating budget is asking lawmakers to help make it more efficient. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
The Department of Human Services receives $3.5 billion in total funding annually, including three-fourths of all federal money received by the executive branch. Director, Pankaj Bhanot, is asking lawmakers to approve House Bill 1926 to enable DHS to improve its effectiveness in reducing poverty in Hawai’i.
“It is a comprehensive approach to really address the child and the family as a whole. We have always addressed children’s needs as child only throughout our programs and services. Same thing with our adults. We have just dealt with them in a silo. All our federal funds come down in silos. All our federal policies are in silos. This is the time for integration through the multigenerational approach.”
DHS started the Ohana Nui project in 2016 to address the social determinants of poverty. The goal is to stabilize a child’s environment to enhance learning as well as improve the economic security of the entire family. The less time a child and family spends in poverty, the less time they will be dependent on public assistance. Director Bhanot says the comprehensive approach will have long-term benefits.
“It will allow us to meet families where they are rather than having them chase us all over the place. It will also allow us to create generative partnerships with our community partners, whether it’s nonprofits, businesses or philanthropy.”
James Plichta is a social worker and substance abuse counselor. He says this legislation will help providers meet the changing needs of the community and focus on the whole family.
“This bill works so well to be something that’s proactive. It will help us streamline our services to keep pace with what’s coming in the future and will help improve what’s happening now.”
House Health and Human Services Committee chair, John Mizuno, asked director Bhanot how critical House Bill 1926 was to DHS and the state.
“It seems like this bill may be your top priority. Chair, there are so many other competing priorities that we have; if you look at the larger poverty, yes, this is one of the most critical pieces of our package this year.”
DHS receives more than $1.3 billion in state general fund appropriations each year. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.