Politics & Government

DSHS orders 380 job cuts, more furloughs

The Department of Social and Health Services State ordered spending cuts of 6.3 percent today, including elimination of 380 jobs and additional unpaid furloughs for employees by June 30.

The cuts align with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s executive order to cut most state agencies’ spending across-the-board by 6.3 percent, and announcements by other agencies are due by Friday, the date the governor’s order takes effect.

In the case of DSHS, this means spending cuts of $168 million including nine one-day "temporary layoffs" or unpaid furloughs for workers not subject previously to the temporary layoffs ordered by the Legislature. The cuts also include two more furlough days for workers already subject to 10 furlough days by legislation.

The DSHS cuts begin Friday, and layoff notices have gone out to an unspecified number of workers, DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley said. Here is the agency’s web site with details.

“Obviously there is going to be some attrition. Obviously there is going to be some layoffs. Obviously there is going to be some jobs left open,’’ Shapley said. His agency said the cuts are on top of 2,000 positions eliminated since June 2008.

Spokesmen for the Washington Federation of State Employees took the news philosophically and said it appeared the agency is doing what it can to preserve services and jobs. (Its president put out this statement to employees today.)

“We understand the economic realities of the state right now. What we’re trying to do is mitigate the impacts in the best way possible,” federation executive director Greg Devereux said during a break in contract negotiations.

The union, which represents about 40,000 state employees, has previously criticized furloughs – and it has called for closing tax loopholes rather than cuts that land on workers. But Devereux said things appear to have changed.

“They (DSHS) indicated they didn’t think the way furloughs were done last year was that fair and they want to engage in a more flexible approach on these cuts. We intend to talk to them as soon as possible – maybe next week – to figure out how to do these in a sane manner,” Devereux said. “They honestly seem to be trying to preserve services and limit the layoffs; and we respect that.’’

Devereux said DSHS also appears to be at “barebones” staffing and if they get rid of staff now it means they “are going to get rid of programs.”

WFSE president Carol Dotlich said in a hotline email to members that union officials were told the agency is closing one ward at Western State Hospital, one cottage at a residential center for the disabled and downsizing Maple Lane School near Grand Mound. “Long term care services, TANF, and food assistance for non citizens and naturalization services will be hit hard. Mental Health RSNs will also be hard hit. The impacts of these changes will reverberate throughout the human services network. This is difficult news to hear and our members will hear a lot of speculation about it,” Dotlich wrote.

More announcements by other agencies are expected this week – potentially today in the office that oversees Medicaid. Gregoire has warned that cuts could hit podiatry and hospice care for the elderly.

DSHS is the state’s largest agency and it’s share of the cuts is $280 million, including $168 million announced by DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus.

Republican lawmakers including Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County have criticized the across-the-board approach, which can hit all programs the same across state government.

But majority Democrats – who struggled to approve spending cuts and tax increases in a special session in April – have said this is the quickest way to address the state’s $520 million deficit which grew in the most recent revenue forecast.

The furloughs would likely hit pretty hard in a community like Olympia, which is the seat of government. Shapley said the furloughs should save $11.2 million and save 160 jobs that otherwise would have had to be cut.

Line workers have posted comments to the agency’s internal “blog” that mostly ask questions, according to Shapley. He said that he’s heard in conversations with fellow staffers they think the furloughs may be fairer than putting furloughs on only 40 percent of staffers.

“Now everyone virtually is sharing in that burden. I’ve heard personally from staff members that say at least that’s fair,’’ he said. Shapley added that the two furlough days added for workers already affected will be in November and May, while the employees newly facing furloughs will likely be taking time off in the manner of “rolling furloughs” or “holiday” scheduling.

As a result some of those workers – including Child Protective Services employees that go out to investigate complaints of child abuse – might take the first Monday off in a month, while others took the second Monday and others took the other days, Shapley said. But details have to be worked out.

He said Dreyfus also has told labor she wants to talk to them about her concern that lower-paid workers are hit harder. The Legislature’s furloughs included a provision that let workers earning less than $30,000 a year use vacation leave to cover their furlough days and avoid a loss in actual pay.

“It’s my understanding that it would take negotiation with the union to work it out,” Shapley said. “She is looking for ways to do a similar thing if she can.’’