Friday, July 11, 2008

Texas to hire hundreds to determine eligibility for social services

By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

The state's main social services agency, trying to stabilize a troubled enrollment system for aid programs, said Thursday it will increase the eligibility determination workforce this summer by several hundred people.

"We're hiring as many people as the Legislature will allow us to hire," said Health and Human Services Commission spokesman Geoff Wool.

Lawmakers, foreseeing the need after what critics say was a botched privatization experiment, gave the commission flexibility to go over a payroll cap.

Since September, the number of state eligibility workers has climbed to 7,027, a gain of 684 employees.

However, in a report this week to a legislative oversight panel, the commission said problems remain.

"Despite the increase in net staffing levels, turnover continues to be an issue," it said.

This year, 21 percent of the state's eligibility caseworkers, clerks and supervisors are expected to quit – only a "modest reduction" from last year's 22 percent turnover, the commission said.

To halt the flight, Health and Human Services Commission chief Albert Hawkins announced last winter an unusual set of midyear raises for eligibility workers. Last month, most received at least a 5 percent raise. Last fall, entry-level workers were paid an average annual salary of $26,100.

But Mr. Hawkins has conceded there's much work to do.

On Thursday, the commission announced it lifted this year's target for eligibility staff to 7,438, from 7,136.

Mr. Wool said if the goal can be reached, the commission will have used up all the flexibility lawmakers permitted

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