The Illinois Department of Human Services is taking another step to protect its staff and residents of Illinois by temporarily closing 11 Family Community Resource Centers to the public, starting Thursday. In ordinary times, IDHS operates 75 centers, the public-facing offices individuals and families can use to secure essential nutrition, income and medical supports.
IDHS's principal goal is to ensure all eligible residents can receive life-sustaining benefits while protecting the safety and health of all staff and customers.
"This is not a decision we make lightly,” IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou said. “However, we have to balance the urgent needs of residents facing hunger and poverty with extremely serious public health directives. Even as many IDHS offices close, our state's safety net remains available. Please know every local office has an urgent call team available to respond right away to emergency cases." (The phone numbers of local urgent call teams are online and posted on the front doors of all FCRC offices.) Since March, IDHS has been urging customers to stay home unless absolutely necessary. Foot traffic into local offices has plummeted, while online and telephone applications for food and medical benefits are skyrocketing, with nearly 30,000 people seeking first-time medical or food benefits each week compared to the usual 10,000 weekly applications.
"The coronavirus crisis calls upon IDHS and all of us to address difficult and unprecedented questions,” said John Bouman, president of the Shriver Center. “There are strong competing priorities. It is essential to try to balance the safety of people needing assistance, the workers who serve them, and the general public in the effort to control the spread of the virus. It is also essential to get vital services to people with heightened needs in this difficult time. IDHS' plan for how to address all of these factors appears to strike the right balance. We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation closely and contribute to any needed improvements. We commend IDHS for this decisive, but also careful and balanced, approach."
IDHS continues to encourage all customers to apply for and manage their benefits online at www.ABE.Illinois.Gov and to call the IDHS Help is Here toll-free line at 1-833-2-FIND-HELP. IDHS will keep both its customers and employees updated as to office reopenings in the weeks ahead.
Staff who usually work in the public-facing FCRCs will work remotely to process important benefits, and about 180 ABE (Access to Benefits Electronically) call center agents will be taking calls from customers across the state. IDHS is also exploring making non-public “back offices” available to IDHS staff who find themselves unable to work from home because of technology limitations — so casework and telephone support can continue to the maximum possible extent.
The department has developed each of its significant local office changes throughout the COVID-19 emergency in strong partnership with AFSCME Council 31, hunger relief and disability rights advocacy organizations across the state.
IDHS continues preparing to broaden and strengthen all of its remote options for consumers - and will use every available resource to ensure that residents of Illinois are not harmed by this temporary reorganization.
More information about COVID-19 is available at www.CoronaVirus.Illinois.Gov and through the COVID-19 Hotline, at (800) 889-3931.
Public Service Announcement urging IDHS to use online and phone resources: https://www2.illinois.gov/cms/agency/media/radio/Pages/psa.aspxand http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=123673
Map of the Family Community Resource Center Locations: http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=123570