Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DCFS gamble on more funding could result in more layoffs

By Jamey Dunn 

By delaying layoffs, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is betting that lawmakers will restore some of the department’s funding when they return in November for their veto session. But if the money is not approved, personnel cuts could be even deeper.

DCFS announced last week that it would not move ahead with 375 layoffs that the department had previously said were necessary because of budget cuts. Instead DCFS plans to try its luck at getting legislators to restore some of the money during the veto session. In the meantime, those workers will be getting paid out of a budget that does not include the money to cover their wages. If lawmakers do not approve a supplemental appropriation when they return for the veto session, DCFS could face a major budget shortfall at the end of the calendar year. “In terms of the potential risk, having not laid off people at this point and if there is no supplemental, I will have spent $19,646,000 that I was not appropriated as of the end of this year. So that the position that I’ll be in is having to lay off in addition [to the previously announced layoffs] another 380 people because that’s a half a year [they worked], and I need to double their salaries in order to be able to make that up. ... That’s the reality that I’m faced with,” DCFS Director Richard Calica told lawmakers at a hearing earlier this month when asked about the potential risk of delaying layoffs.

The department announced in August that it would lay off hundreds of employees after the legislature slashed the DCFS budget. Gov. Pat Quinn had proposed a funding cut to the agency in his budget plan, but lawmakers tacked on more reductions, leaving DCFS with more than $85 million less than last fiscal year. The bulk of layoffs would have come from a preventative program known as intact family services. (For more on the cuts and layoffs, see this Illinois Issues blog post.) DCFS walked back the layoffs last week and is instead opting to continue with a restructuring plan that the Quinn administration proposed earlier this year. The plan would shift some management employees to front-line positions and is geared toward lowering the caseload volumes of front-line workers and investigators. The plan “still cuts the DCFS staff by 6 percent, compared to last year, and still reduces the budget of the agency by tens of million of dollars,” said DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin.

But the department's actions are contingent on lawmakers voting to restore funding, as well as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreeing to waive some consideration for employee seniority. Clarkin said DCFS would need about $45 million to enact the restructuring and avoid the layoffs. “Both the director and the union-represented employees and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle understand that the state of Illinois has a primary purpose, both legal and moral to protect children.”

However, the supplemental appropriation seems to be far from a done deal. Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who chairs the human services budgeting committee in the House, said her committee expects DCFS to justify every cent of what it is asking for. “I think the days of asking for round number budget increases or restorations are really done,” she said. The deep cuts to the agency’s budget came out of Feigenholtz's committee. “We want to make sure that when we restore money, that we are actually solving some looking problems that have not been resolved.”

“We’ve been working to build support for a supplemental appropriation since essentially the day the budget was passed. We knew that the cut to DCFS was unacceptable even before the budget was passed,” said Anders Lindall, spokesperson for AFSCME Council 31. Lindall said it is too soon to comment on whether the union would agree to the changes the agency is seeking in seniority policies. He said union members are relieved that DCFS did not move forward with the layoffs, and AFSCME is specifically pushing for restorations that would keep people in their jobs.

“We want to know exactly where those bodies are going and what they’re going to be doing. ... We want this money to make it to the street. We want those phones answered, and we want those children taken care of,” Feigenholtz said. She added that a clear source for the money would also have to emerge by the veto session. Quinn has proposed using money from shuttering prisons, but a judge has blocked the prison closures. Lindall suggested using money from the sale of Thomson prison to the federal government or the possibility that state revenues may be larger than previously expected. The union opposes using money from state facility closures to fund DCFS. “Forcing Illinois residents to choose between safe kids and safe prisons is wrong, and it’s not necessary.”

House Republicans have accused Quinn of dragging his feet on cost saving Medicaid reforms, and may be less than cooperative when it comes to putting “yes” votes on any supplemental appropriations bills during the veto session. “Until the Quinn administration gets serious about implementing our Medicaid reform laws, House Republicans will oppose attempts by the governor to spend additional money,” said a written statement from House Minority Leader Tom Cross’ office.

Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, who chairs one of two Senate budget committees, said she favors approving more funding for DCFS during the veto session. However, she voiced concerns over the gamble the department would be making by holding off on layoffs. “I would like to see us being able to re-sort dollars here,” Steans said. “There’s no guarantee [a] supplemental gets passed. I’m just me. I don’t know where the House is on this. I certainly don’t know where the Republicans are on it. So it think there’s a big risk potentially on how you go forward if we don’t get a supplemental passed. There’s a big risk to the department by not taking action now because there’s no guarantee that we’re going to get the supplemental.”

Clarkin declined to discuss the potential for more layoffs if the money does not come through, or whether the department has a plan B. “I think everybody is going to keep working together to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

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