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OPINION: Workforce Services offices to be closed

by From Staff Reports | June 6, 2023 at 7:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK – The state Division of Workforce Services will close nine offices around the state.

The closings are part of an overall restructuring of state offices that used to administer welfare programs known as Transitional Employment Assistance (TEA).

Under Act 832 of 2023, approved by the legislature earlier this year, people who need TEA will apply at local offices of the Department of Human Services.

The legislature transferred the TEA offices to streamline the process of determining whether applicants are eligible for assistance. The Department of Human Services administers several other programs to benefit low-income families, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

Workforce Services is the state's main employment agency, helping people find jobs and file for unemployment insurance. The Division hosts job fairs and operates adult education to teach skills.

The transfer of TEA from Workforce Services to DHS will take effect July 1, which is the beginning of the new fiscal year. It will require the transfer of 164 employees from Workforce Services to DHS. Those employees will keep their current salaries.

A spokesman for Workforce Services said that the nine offices being closed are "underutilized." The offices are in Arkadelphia, Batesville, Benton, Blytheville, Camden, Helena, Magnolia, Mountain Home and Rogers.

Workforce Services will continue to help people in those cities with eight mobile centers and by using more thorough and efficient technology. The Workforce Services Division has created a job seeker data base, which allows Division staff to contact people directly.

It is part of a national trend to maintain fewer "bricks and mortar" buildings and instead rely on technology, the Division's director said.

The legislature enacted another new law that will affect people who apply for public assistance. It is Act 266, which reduces the lifetime limit for cash benefits from two years to one year, for households with adults who are able to work. It takes effect on Aug. 1.

More than half of the people receiving cash benefits from the state have been doing so for more than 18 months. The act will not affect children who live in a household in which no adult is able to work.

Act 675 of 2023 will affect people who qualify for food stamps, which is known as SNAP. That stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The act raises the threshold for eligibility known as the asset limit, which could be in the form of a savings account, a motor vehicle or other type of property.

The asset limit had been $2,250 for most families, and $3,500 for families with someone older than 60 years or a family member with a disability. Act 675 allows the asset limit to go up to $5,500.

The act was approved with bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Legislative supporters of Act 675 say that it recognizes the impact of inflation on low-income families.

For example, they can now save up for a car valued at $5,500 and still remain eligible for food stamps. In most parts of Arkansas, access to a decent car is a necessity for getting to and from work.

Editor's note: Sen. Joshua Bryant represents District 32 in Arkansas. He and his family live in Rogers. He serves on the Committee of Education and the committee on City, County and Local Affairs.

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