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by Pearl Hahn

Poverty exists in Hawaii, and the state Department of Human Services (DHS) administers welfare programs catering to tens of thousands of state residents to address it through the following Divisions: Benefit, Employment and Support Services, Med-QUEST, Social Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind. DHS is one of the largest state departments with a $1.9 billion annual budget and nearly 2,500 permanent positions, according to its FY2007-2008 report.

The stated purpose of these divisions is to help transition residents from welfare to full employment, to prevent family poverty, to provide quality health insurance, and to help low-income earners gain skills to participate in today’s workforce. Two agencies are attached to DHS- the Office of Youth Services and the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.

Here are some things DHS cites as major achievements:

DHS expanded the income eligibility for ‘free’ health insurance by 50% in 2006 and another 50% in 2008, meaning that a family of four can now earn over $73,000 annually and receive comprehensive insurance for their children.

For adults with or without children, DHS expanded the income limit to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

In the fall of 2008, DHS’s new QUEST Expanded Access Medicaid program for low-income seniors and disabled persons had 37,000 clients. Additional health services include programs for obesity, diabetes, and home-based care.

The number of clients receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or welfare cash assistance) was 6,368 in 2008.

DHS’s Supporting Employment Empowerment program transfers candidates to companies for employment. In addition to work wages, the state reimburses hourly minimum wage plus 50% of every dollar paid in wages over minimum wage plus 14% of the wages. Health insurance and child care assistance are also provided.

In 2006, DHS began a “Reward Work” initiative that allows welfare recipients who are participating in employment activities to keep their monthly cash assistance while working during their first two years on welfare. Reward Work also provides two months of rent payment.

Thus far, 7,069 welfare recipients have received these incentive subsidies and payments totaling $8,015,543.

Read more about welfare in Hawaii at the Department of Human Services homepage.