I would like to commend DHS Commissioner Halbert for promptly providing clarification as to what her department does to support the territory's seniors.
That someone would question any and every expenditure made by a government which is One-point-something Billion Dollars in debt should come as no surprise to Commissioner Halbert or anyone in the Turnbull Administration.
That there are misconceptions about the departments of an Administration which has so many appointees (i.e. commissioners) who fail (refuse?) to appear before the Senate to be held accountable (for the things they do well as the things that aren't done so well) shouldnot cause any great amazement for Ms. Halbert or anyone else. Many in this administration (Ms. Halbert and a few others – who do actually respond to requests by the Senate to appear, media inquiries and requests for information from the public – excluded) show (or at a minimum give the impression) through their actions that they do not feel accountable to the public.
How many times have we read about Senate meetings which have had to be rescheduled because Administration officials failed to appear or bring the required documents? It is only natural to ask "What is it they don't want the Senate (or the public) to know?" when time after time they fail to appear,leaving Senators without the necessary information to do their jobs and having to threaten legal action. If she wants to be amazed, she should be amazed that the administration for which she works allows this kind of disrespect to the Senate and the people of the VI.
While it might not be the "innovative" program for which Ms. Halbert is looking to provide home delivered meals, the Meals-on-Wheels program is being used in thousands of communities, staffed by hundreds of thousands of volunteers (on their own time, using THEIR own vehicles), serving meals to millions of people. If the territory doesn't have a volunteer Meals-on-Wheel program – start one. If it has one – expand it. Virgin Islanders are good and caring people and if presented with an opportunity to help the territory's senior citizens I think they would jump at the chance. Maybe every commissioner or Senator (or they could appoint one of their many staff members) could "seed" the program by volunteering one day amonth. Businesses (with little encouragement) could be convinced to allow employees a little extra time during lunch (once a week or once a month) if they were to participate in the program. How many volunteers would it take so that the 30 people you listed would not have to be on a "waiting list?" How many more seniors could be provided nutritious meals if your department spent more time managing a volunteer program than paying for vehicles?
As far as the Homemaker program goes, why is DHS responsible for getting them to their worksites? Could you not simply require a Homemaker to be a licensed driver with his or her own transportation.? Many in the private sector are required to provide their own transportation, even if it is work related. I agree it is a great program which is needed but it could be delivered in a more cost-effective way.
Due to a lack of funding and cutbacks, there seems to be a number of VITRAN buses and drivers idled. Could not some agreement be reached between the two agencies to put the drivers and buses back in service to meet some of your department's transportation needs. Granted, many of your clients have special requirements but for those who don't, couldn't this be a more cost-effective option than the recurring purchase of new vehicles? The decision to close the kitchens at the Lucinda Millin and Whim Garden Homes was made 10 years ago and based on factors which may not exist today. While I don't have the specific figures, I find it hard to believe it is more cost-effective to produce something off-site and then transport it to where it is used. Maybe there are some economics of scale involved but the issue deserves more consideration. I applaud the commissioner's personal involvement in ensuring the concerns of the residents of the two homes are quickly addressed. Many of her peers would not have been so quick to act or would have sent a "representative."
All things considered, DHS is one of the better departments but it is not above questioning or answering to "misconceptions." Ms. Halbert has been in public service long enough to not be "amazed" or surprised by anything. I encourage her and her staff to continue their efforts on behalf of the people and the elders of the territory. I would also encourage her to continue to go against the "norm" of the Turnbull administration by providing timely information about her department to the people of the territory and its Senators.
For additional edification, it would be nice if the commissioner would provide The Source with a detailed listing of the type of vehicle (make and model) and the specified (staff, meal delivery, senior transportation) use of the 12 vehicles her department recently received approval to purchase. Out of curiosity, how many people in DHS are assigned a government vehicle?
QUESTIONS REMAIN ON HUMAN SERVICES
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