DHR needs up even as budget cuts loom
Published 10:56 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011
As agencies across the state wait for the General Fund budget to be passed with what is likely to be deep financial cuts, some are already prepared for the worst.
Lynn Barnes, director of the Escambia County Department of Human Resources, said her agency may not be as deeply cut as others.
“We are already seeing some changes in the department in personnel,” Barnes said. “Locally, currently when we lose staff they are not being replaced.”
Barnes said as employees retire or otherwise leave the agency, their work is absorbed by other workers within the department.
“Right now, we don’t have an adult service worker,” Barnes said. “When that person was lost, the work was absorbed by other service staff. We expect further losses to be handled the same way.”
Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed budget would cut the Department of Human Resources by $9 million. Lawmakers have not yet begun debate on the General Fund; they are in a spring break recess this week.
As the recession continues, Barnes said particular DHR services are seeing an increase in need, which means additional work for those who are already taxed in their positions.
“Right now our food stamp workers are handling about 600 cases on average,” Barnes said. “With the recession, we haven’t seen a plateau yet. Our numbers are inching up each month, and workers are working overtime. We just don’t know where all of this will lead.”
Barnes said in addition to food stamp cases, other workers are also facing high caseloads as financial woes hit every area of service for the department.
“Our child support workers are handling 1,000 cases or more,” Barnes said. “They are managing family assistance and our JOBS program and they are managing as best they can. We are trying to keep up.”
As agencies are hit with funding cuts and the inability to replace lost workers, services through DHR will become taxed with fewer workers keeping up with more cases.
“We hope that people will be patient with us and the services we provide,” Barnes said. “With cuts possible in the near future, we just don’t know how things will be. We have not seen information that would allow us to see what the trickle-down effect will be on us.”
Barnes said the day-to-day struggle at the Department may become more difficult if financial cuts come down after a new budget is approved.
“We struggle with losses everyday,” Barnes said. “Pain is inevitable, but misery is a choice. We have to make it a point not to be miserable in the job. It’s tough, but we manage.”
Although further cuts caused by budget changes are possible, Barnes said there is one area of service by DHR that will never be forsaken.
“When there is a child in need, we will respond,” Barnes said.
“We won’t shift that to a back burner. If it means that supervisors have to work in the middle of the night, that’s what we’ll do. No child in need will be pushed aside.”
Barnes said the predictions of what could happen in a budget crunch has her concerned, but staff currently in place has worked through tough times before.
“We have been in worse shape staff wise,” Barnes said. “We’ve been able to work through it before and we’ll work through whatever comes our way.”