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Mold Problems Deemed 'Beyond Hope' at Food Stamp Office

May 4, 2007 — Food Stamp Office employees, complaining of long-standing mold problems and other health and safety issues, worked from the front porch of the office's Frederiksted building Friday, where the air was mold-free.
The building has been plagued with problems for several years now, affecting both clients and employees. Over the morning, several senatorial aides came by to hear about the situation in order to inform their respective bosses. Frederiksted civic activist George Flores, who has drawn the media's attention to the situation over the past months, was on hand as well.
“It’s a recurring problem that has been hampering the ability of workers to function at the Food Stamp Office for more than a year,” Sen. Neville James said. “I spoke to people in Human Services, and they assured me it would be dealt with. But it’s a microcosm of what we’re dealing with in several government buildings, where mold has gotten the better of the employees.”
The current unworkable situation began when, in December of 2005, workers complained of health problems, rashes, breathing difficulties and such. This was attributed to mold located primarily in the ceiling tiles. After several stopgap compromise solutions were tried, some functions were moved upstairs. This created its own new set of difficulties.
Clients receiving Food Stamps must now go up 26 steep, tiled stairs to access the facility. Many of those clients are elderly, somewhat fragile or infirm, or younger and pregnant or are bringing small children with them. Last fall, at least two elderly ladies fell on the stairs, one of whom dislocated her shoulder, requiring that an ambulance to be called. Since then non-slip tape has been put on the stairs, and employees will come outside and assist clients who have trouble with the stairs.
In contrast to the building, the Food Stamp Office, and its employees, was rated as the second-best run in the country last year.
“My people went down to check out the situation; and as far as we know, the employees, the union there, is just asking the administration for a timetable,” James said. “We are going to have to find out if the executive branch has or will have a plan. It has gotten to the point now where they believe it is beyond hope. At some point, we will have to relocate or make major changes, if it means temporarily shutting the building down — or whatever it takes to see some change.”
Sources within Human Services said last fall an office had been selected to replace the Frederiksted office, but the move could not be made until the Frederiksted lease expired or else Human Services would be paying double the rent.
` Flores said he plans to keep a spotlight on the problem until it is addressed.
“Monday morning we will come by again,” Flores said. “Hopefully we will be able to find out how we will resolve the problem. They have to be able to deal with the recipients, and they have to have a place to work.”
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