DHS’s Bhanot steps down; Betts named new director

Posted on Aug 27, 2020 in Capitol Connection, Featured
New DHS director Cathy Betts

New DHS director Cathy Betts

Former DHS director Pankaj Bhanot

Former DHS director Pankaj Bhanot

After an impressive 21-year career at the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS), director Pankaj Bhanot announced he was leaving his position Aug. 31 for health and family reasons. “I planned on leaving at the beginning of 2020 for health reasons, but due to COVID-19 I chose to stay to usher the department through these unprecedented times,” Bhanot said.

His replacement is deputy director Cathy Betts, who has served in that position since October 2017. Prior to that, she has been the executive director for the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women, a deputy attorney general, and a community outreach worker for The Sex Abuse Treatment Center at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children.

In an interview with MidWeek prior to his departure, Bhanot advised anyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic to look to DHS for help. Because thousands of people statewide lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19, DHS has been flooded with thousands of applications for benefits. But Bhanot is proud of the way the department has been able to respond. “That is ‘Ohana Nui. That is the aloha spirit,” he said.

Bhanot traces his life’s work and commitment to a promise he made to his grandmother years ago. He promised to dedicate himself to public service, to make people’s lives better and help the community’s most vulnerable. That promise helped DHS’s leadership anticipate back in late February that COVID-19 could hit families hard across the state and started working with their federal partners to make sure benefits were expedited. The result was when thousands of applications for food and medical insurance assistance began flooding in, DHS was ready. The average time to process applications ranged from only two to three days. DHS also made sure childcare centers for essential employees and first responders stayed open.

Of the leadership transition, Governor Ige said, “Pankaj’s commitment to our community and his passion for providing a voice for those who need help has benefited countless people across our state. Cathy has the experience and expertise necessary to successfully lead the department during a very difficult and critical period. I have every confidence that she will serve our residents and our state well.”

To learn more about DHS programs and services related to childcare, food/financial aid or medical insurance, go to https://humanservices.hawaii.gov/.

Read more in the September Capitol Connection newsletter

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