Governor Wants to Cut Vacant Positions; Some Commissioners Don’t

State agencies are scrambling to save hundreds of long-vacant positions set to be axed next year, warning that abolishing some could harm services for Tennesseans most in need, reports Andy Sher. The move comes in response to a directive from Gov. Bill Haslam that state departments eliminate frozen positions vacant for more than a year unless they can “buy” them back by making cuts in less vital areas.
Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter told Haslam the department needs to preserve 214 of 226 positions vacant for more than a year.
If the positions are eliminated, the state risks violating federal standards for providing timely services in areas such as family assistance services, she said.
Family assistance counselors make eligibility determinations for the state’s Families First welfare program, TennCare and food stamps. Thirty-five positions in that area alone have been vacant for more than a year. Hatter is asking to restore them.
“It is typical for each of our eligibility counselors to manage caseloads of 1,500 and some exceeding 3,000,” she told Haslam.
She said the department has used money from vacant positions to pay existing staff overtime.
“To add further pressure,” the commissioner said, “nearly every activity these counselors execute has a corresponding federally regulated timeline for completion.”
…Meanwhile, Labor and Workforce Commissioner Karla Davis is asking to keep what she said are 128 positions out of 142 jobs left vacant for a year or more.
Most are funded entirely by the federal government, which reimburses states for what they spend.
Among Davis’ requests in her presentation to Haslam was $1.8 million to retain 41 full-time and 12 part-time employment security interiewer positions.
…Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day is seeking to save 58 long-vacant positions at a cost $1 million that officials consider key in the areas of administration, child and family management and juvenile justice.
…A budget-related document issued by the Haslam administration earlier this year estimated there were 4,813 vacancies among the authorized 48,587 full-time positions in the 2010-11 fiscal year. That left 43,774 filled positions. The document doesn’t say how many vacancies were more than a year old.
In 2008, there were 52,129 authorized positions and 47,714 of them were filled.

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