The Florida Department of Children and Families will close its Tampa, Plant City and Ruskin field offices by the end of the year, an agency spokesman said today.
The agency says 95 percent of its clients use the Internet to apply for DCF services and monitor their accounts. The office closings allow the agency to spend on staff and continue to improve its technology, said Terry Field, a DCF spokesman for the Suncoast region, which includes Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
"It does save some money but we are reinvesting that money in our people and technology," Field said.
DCF won't fire any of its employees, Field said. They will work from home or work from the Tampa DCF headquarters, 9393 N. Florida Ave.
The agency also is considering closing its two Pinellas County offices – in St. Petersburg and Largo – and its lone office in Pasco County, which is in Port Richey.
DCF will look at the number of people applying online and the number of community service agencies available to assist before making a decision, Field said.
"It's a detailed process, and it's a decision we don't take lightly," said Field, who added the decision won't be made until the next fiscal year beginning in July 2012.
In the old days, a person applying for DCF assistance visited an office and filled out an application. An appointment was set and the applicant later met with a DCF staffer to continue the interview process, Field said.
Today, the applicant applies online and a DCF staffer contacts the applicant by phone.
For those in Hillsborough County who don't have access to a computer, they can visit about 100 community service agencies that work with DCF. The agencies have computers and phones connected with the DCF call center.
The agency plans to use a mobile application program where staff will drive to areas such as Ruskin, where there is a concentrated high volume of people who apply and benefit from DCF programs, Field said.