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Health and Welfare spokesman: Thayn can work a day in our shoes if he wants

Health and Welfare spokesman: Thayn can work a day in our shoes if he wants

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
July 10, 2010

There's a rift developing between state Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, and employees with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) after Thayn, in a previous story on IdahoReporter.com, implied that agency employees want to avoid additional work.  Several DHW staffers e-mailed Thayn, asking him to come work a day in their shoes to see if he would say the same thing after experiencing their workload.  DHW's spokesman, Tom Shanahan, said that because Thayn is a legislator, he could observe DHW's work if he wanted to.

The flap originated from Thayn’s comments in an article about DHW’s asset test, which is a thorough examination of the hard assets of a person or family applying for food stamps.  In the past, if a person owned more than $2,000 in hard assets – travel trailers, boat, ATVs and the like – he would be disqualified from receiving food stamps.  Gov. Butch Otter suspended the test in June of 2009, due to a slumping economy that prevented families from turning assets into cash to purchase food.  When Otter’s original suspension ran out at the end of May 2010, DHW felt the economy hadn’t recovered enough to justify reapplying the test, so agency officials decided to suspend it for an additional year.

That decision riled Thayn and other Republican lawmakers who had given the legislative OK to Otter’s original suspension in January.  When asked about the second suspension, Thayn told IdahoReporter.com that, The reason I believe DHW employees don’t want to deal with the asset test because it means they would have to work,” said Thayn.

That comment didn’t sit too well with several DHW workers, one of whom contacted IdahoReporter.com on an anonymous basis to bring attention to the issue.  The anonymous staffer, unable to release her name to the public because of agency policies prohibiting it, said that many workers in the department were insulted by the remarks, and that Thayn’s responses to employee e-mails about the issue came back as "disconcerting and smug."

Shanahan, in an e-mail about the dust up, said that Thayn has the privilege of watching DHW conduct their daily activities as he so chooses, but he would be bound by certain rules of confidentiality, meaning that he couldn't speak about private medical or other personal data he sees or would likely come across.  When IdahoReporter.com asked the anonymous staffer if she would like to see Thayn working in the department's corridors, at least for a day, the staffer didn't seem thrilled about the idea.  "It sounds like a great concept, but based on my interactions with him - my fear would be that he would use the opportunity to generate more criticism," said the staffer.

Thayn has not yet said if he would be interested in working at a DHW office for a day.  Calls to the legislator's house have gone unreturned.

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