The recently released Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) from DFPS establishes Agency Administrators priorities for the next Legislative Session. The LAR is an important step in the process of setting the budget for the next two fiscal years. Legislators will use the LAR as a starting point to determine what to fund or not to fund in the final State Budget.
Across-the-board pay raises for employees are not included in the budget request. TSEU members, advocacy organizations, and some legislators have all called on DFPS to improve pay as part of the plan to address the turnover crisis in the agency. Instead, an Exceptional Item in the LAR states that the agency will ask for additional funding for compensation, but it is waiting on two university studies to determine how to compensate “high-performing staff.” In an article from the Dallas Morning News, Commissioner Whitman “hinted that any improvement in salaries is likely to be in the form of merit pay, not across-the-board raises.”
In a Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing on September 13, agency administrators testified that pay was not as important as the work environment. The 1% reduction in the turnover rate was also cited as evidence that Transformation and other changes are making a difference for employees. During the same hearing, agency leaders touted the benefits of Locality Pay, citing increased retention in the Midland-Odessa area after pay was increased by $5,000 to compete with jobs in the booming oil and gas industry. The success of that regional pay raise shows just how effective an across-the-board raise would be in reducing turnover for the entire state.
Funding to reach targeted caseloads levels are also listed in the budget request, although it is not clear if these targeted levels would include fictive workers made up out of overtime hours, workers on leave, and workers not assigned full caseloads. In the Federal court ruling by Judge Jack in late 2015, DFPS was rebuked for using various deceptive methods to bring down caseload averages, but has not disavowed using these or other methods to suppress averages. A list of these targeted caseload levels compared to recommended caseload levels is at right.
The LAR does include funding for expanding Foster Care Redesign to eight more areas in the next two years. To date, only part of Region 3 has been redesigned, and a Request for Proposal has been released for Region 2. Providence, a for-profit corporation based in Arizona, abandoned the first Re-design contract with DFPS after losing $2 million in Region 2/9 in one year. DFPS is developing a proposal that, “would further advance adequate capacity and high quality care for children in foster and kinship care.” Details for these proposed improvements will be added on to the LAR at a later date.
Our pay and caseloads will not improve unless we make our voice heard with Legislators!
Attempting to fix our agency, again, without improving pay and not reducing caseloads to safe levels, means the vulnerable Texans we serve will continue to fall through the cracks. TSEU members are making their voice heard at the Capitol – and that voice needs to be even LOUDER! Get involved, join TSEU and take a stand for quality state services!