At its monthly meeting on March 25, the DHS Commission reviewed the agency budget outlook and discussed the growing need for DHS programs as the economy moves toward recession.
“Food stamps are a leading economic indicator,” DHS Director Howard Hendrick told the Commission. “The demand for food stamps increases when times are tough and we saw an increase in February after a trend downward. I am concerned with the ability of people to pay for food and gas to get to work.”
In addition, Hendrick pointed out the growth in the ADvantage waiver, the program which helps the elderly and disabled stay in their homes instead of going to nursing homes. In the past, DHS has exceeded its budget in the Advantage waiver to save nursing home payments at the Health Care Authority. However, with the tight funding situation, this cannot continue.
A standstill budget for FY 2009 will in reality be a cut for DHS, because of the increase cost of employee benefits, food, fuel and medical supplies. In addition, the federal government has passed a rule that will cost the agency $10 million in funds for targeted case management.
“The untold story behind these numbers is the toll they are taking on employees,” said OPEA Policy and Research Director Trish Frazier. “The salaries of DHS workers have not kept pace with inflation. Workers in the rural areas are especially hard hit with the cost to commute to work.”
“In addition, caseloads grow during hard economic times with no new staff to help carry the burden,” Frazier continued. “The numbers are staggering. Workers are leaving, not only because the pay is bad, but because of the stress of trying to stay timely on a caseload that should be handled by two or three people.”
Hendrick indicated in his closing remarks that the serious challenges facing the agency include:
High caseloads and unchanged staffing levels;
Adequate pay for the DHS work force;
Growing demand for the ADvantage Waiver;
Increasing prevalence of fragile families and poorly prepared families; and
Stability in the child welfare and child support enforcement workforce.
“OPEA has set aside a day for DHS workers to fight for the agency budget,” said DHS Council Director Jim Darst. “We have a full day of talking to our legislative subcommittee and meeting with Director Hendrick. In addition we will bring our side of the story about low pay, high caseloads, and worker turnover to the media.”