State welfare office in Sitka on its way to reopening
SITKA, Alaska (AP) — Sitka’s welfare office that was closed in June 2017 due to budget cuts has made strides toward reopening.
When two of the office’s staffers left last year, the state agency decided to close the office instead of filling the vacant positions, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported Monday.
Dolly Alberston, an office assistant at the Sitka welfare office until it closed, said the staff there would assist 20 to 40 people a day.
Monica Windom, director of the state Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Assistance, said the office should reopen in two or three months.
“It depends on how the hiring goes ... They have to review all the applications, and then do the interviews, and then get hiring approvals,” Windom said, adding that once selected staff would have to undergo extensive training.
Windom said there are no current plans to reopen the shuttered office in Kotzebue.
“It’s a tough decision to close an office,” she said. “We don’t want to close the small offices. We know how important they are to the economic security in smaller communities.”
With the Sitka office closed, the Sitka Community Hospital assumed the role of “fee agent,” assigning three staff members to respond to inquiries once handled by the local office.
“They (DPA) just closed their door, basically telling people that they should call Juneau,” said Andrea Thomas, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Outreach and Enrollment Manager. “It’s been really difficult for people. The biggest disservice is for people who don’t know where to get assistance ... They’re on their own, and they just don’t know where to go. These are very difficult systems to navigate.”
Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/