The Jefferson County Department of Human Services saw 150 clients May 11 after being closed May 8 to deep clean the office because an employee tested positive for COVID-19. For everyone’s health and safety, the Arkansas Department of Human Services is asking clients to consider online options for services, according to a news release.


No other positive cases have been reported at the Jefferson County office and the state DHS is working with the Arkansas Department of Health to determine whether anyone needs to be tested or quarantined, according to a spokeswoman.


About 130 employees work at the local office, which is still seeing many clients in person. DHS has changed some rules to allow for less in-person interactions for the safety of clients. People can apply online and by phone for services such as Medicaid, ARKids and SNAP.


To protect the health and safety of clients during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) public health emergency, DHS is encouraging Jefferson County residents to go online or call rather than go to the local office.


For those who do need to come into the office, DHS is following the directive issued by the health department on social distancing inside its county offices, including in the lobbies. As a result, only 10 or fewer people can be in the lobby at any given time. It may take longer than usual to be able to apply in person.


“On Monday, 150 people came to the DHS office in Pine Bluff,” said Amy Webb, DHS’s chief of communications and community engagement. “We’ve kept our offices open because we know some people have to come in, but a lot of the activity we’re seeing could be done online.”


Since the pandemic began, the DHS office in Pine Bluff has consistently seen 100 or more clients every day, which is among the highest foot traffic for DHS offices in the state. Though that’s not unusual, DHS is trying to limit in-person assistance to reduce everyone’s risk of exposure to or spreading of the virus, Webb said.


“One reason people are coming into the offices is that they want proof they’ve turned in paperwork,” Webb said. “DHS is now allowing clients to submit requested documents via email.”


Clients in Jefferson County can scan or take pictures of their documents and email them to 351Jefferson@arkansas.gov. The email can serve as proof of submission. It’s important that clients do not email multiple county email addresses because it will take DHS much longer to process the information. They also should include the word “sensitive” in the subject line to protect their private information.


People don’t have to go into the office to apply for food stamps now. DHS also has gotten approval to suspend in-person interviews for SNAP (food stamp benefits).


Clients applying for Medicaid, ARKids, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or the Temporary Employee Assistance (TEA) are asked to apply online at www.Access.Arkansas.gov or by phone at 1-855-372-1084. The department has additional staff trained and ready to take online applications.