DHS wants welfare income guidelines raised

Director Erinn Kelly Siel appeared before Oregon legislators Wednesday

Oregon DHS Director Erinn Kelly Siel, Feb. 25, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Oregon DHS Director Erinn Kelly Siel, Feb. 25, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN 6) — The director of the Oregon Department of Human Services told legislators there has been a dramatic increase in caseloads for food stamps and cash assistance between 2007 and 2012.

Erinn Kelley Siel focused a lot on “customer service” when she appeared before a House committee Tuesday.

DHS also asked the state to increase the number of people eligible for welfare by raising the income guidelines to 66% of the federal poverty level.

Legislators focused on if DHS was moving more people off benefits as the recession ended and the economy improves.

Rep. Andy Olson appeared surprised by how many more people used cash assistance – 96% more – in that time period.

“Wow,” he said.

He asked Siel how DHS moves people off benefits if they find a job, and relayed the story of a woman who said a DHS worker told her to finish using her cash assistance card or food stamp benefits even though she found a job.

Later, Siel told KOIN 6 News she would look at that specific case.

“I think that what was shared there is the benefits they are eligible are for an entire month and they are federally allowed to use the benefit for the remainder of the one month period,” she said. “That does not mean that the benefits are on-going.”

Sen. Jackie Winters asked about how many cases DHS was closing instead of opening because, she said, “it gives us an understanding of the work that’s actually being done.”

If the welfare guidelines are raised, that would increase the workload for DHS caseworkers.

DHS worker Eugenia Cox, who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the agency over what she said is an inability to accurately verify who is eligible for benefits, said an increased caseload would make accurate verification more important than ever.

DHS did not discuss any increased verification of benefits in this meeting.

Siel said DHS workers once spent 80% of their time on verifying whether people are eligible for benefits, but that percentage had dropped significantly.

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