Columbus Public Assistance to close
The Columbus Field Office of Public Assistance (OPA) will close its doors sometime next month, prompted by the recent funding reductions by the Legislative special session.
The announcement was made through a news release sent out Monday, Dec. 18, by the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The release states the office will close no later than Jan. 31, 2018, or sooner “depending on staff availability.”
On average, 146 people enter the Columbus Field Office every month seeking public assistance, such as SNAP food assistance, TANF cash assistance or health care coverage, DPHHS Public Information Officer Jon Ebelt told the News this week.
Ebelt said the breakdown of Stillwater County residents currently receiving these benefits is as follows: TANF (42); SNAP (574) and Medicaid (1,376).
“Some of these individuals may be duplicates as several clients are eligible for more than one program,” Ebelt said in an email. “Also, for the most part, these numbers reflect current clients. All ongoing case work, such as re-certifications and renewals, are handled at one of four public assistance processing centers, in this case Billings.”
The three full-time employees in the Columbus office have been given the opportunity to transfer to the Billings office, said Ebelt.
The office is one of 19 offices closing due to the funding reductions that were finalized following the recent Legislative Special Session.
The OPA office closures are part of the $49 million in funding reductions to the DPHHS budget and represent about half of the total $76 million cut to all state agencies, according to the news release. Prior to the session, DPHHS was facing a $100 million funding reduction. That amount was reduced to $49 million when Gov. Bullock and the Legislature came to an agreement to balance the state’s budget during the session using a combination of cuts, transfers and other legislation, according to the news release.
The offices being closed are located in Big Timber, Chinook, Choteau, Conrad, Cut Bank, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Forsyth, Fort Benton, Glendive, Livingston, Malta, Red Lodge, Shelby, Sidney, Plentywood, Roundup and Thompson Falls.
Exact office closure dates will be updated regularly on the DPHHS website at www.dphhs.mt.gov. Updates will also be noticed through social media on agency Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“During this transition, DPHHS is committed to working with all communities impacted by the office closures,” DPHHS Director Hogan stated in the news release. “Our agency is committed to serving Montanans, and we pledge to maintain an open dialogue with the communities during this transition time. We will do everything we can to minimize the impact as much as possible.”
Recipients can submit an application for SNAP food assistance, TANF cash assistance or health care coverage by going online to apply.mt.gov.
By opening an online account, clients can apply for, renew, report changes and check their benefits online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A tutorial on how to use apply.mt.gov is available on the agency YouTube page athttps://www.youtube.com/user/MontanaDPHHS