Coronavirus requires new approaches to just about everything and the Department of Human Services is now suggesting that people in need of its services seek them online:

Forgive me for thinking: This will not end well.

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DHS made a mess of online reporting to qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage. That computer formula it once used to figure help for the disabled? Ouch. Arkansas computer and Internet access? Generally poor — poorer still among poor people who make up the bulk of DHS clientele.

DHS HAS been successful in cutting the number of people covered by its services, which is good for the state budget.

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But, to be serious: Yes, groups of people bunched up waiting extended periods for safety-net assistance is a problem in these necessarily socially distant times.

The DHS announcement:

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Arkansans applying for Medicaid, food assistance, and other programs are encouraged to do so online or by phone rather than in-person during this public health emergency. People applying in-person may experience longer than usual wait times because the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) is limiting the number of people in office lobbies at one time.

“Our offices are open because people need the services we provide, but we want to do our part in flattening the curve of this virus,” said DHS Secretary Cindy Gillespie. “We’ve worked quickly to implement a number of strategies that will help with that. We want to do everything we can to keep people safe.”

Gillespie said that many people are still showing up to apply for benefits in-person, and that it is important that they know they have other options.

Strategies DHS is using to flatten the curve while still providing critical services include:

Encouraging people to apply at www.Access.Arkansas.gov or on the phone by calling 1-855-372-1084.

Implementing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about social distancing by keeping people in the lobby at least six feet apart.

Adding drop boxes in all of DHS’s 84 county offices so that people can leave completed applications that need to be processed without needing to meet face-to-face. Applicants can download a paper application on our website. They also can find paper applications and forms near the drop boxes.
Conducting required interviews for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by phone rather than in-person.

Requesting federal approval to temporarily waive the requirement for a physical signature for SNAP and Transitional Employment Assistance (TEA) applications.

Asking people who are sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to not come into the office until they are well.