DHS proposes cutbacks, cites decline in food stamp, welfare recipients

From The Tennessean:
The state agency in charge of providing food stamps, temporary cash assistance to needy families and child care subsidies for low-income kids is proposing a $3 million budget cut for next year, citing economy-driven declines in the number of Tennesseans dependent on government subsidies.

Department of Human Services chief Raquel Hatter also proposed eliminating staff in a division that oversees fraud, abuse and waste and ensures department accountability ā€” at a time when lawmakers, the Tennessee comptroller’s office and investigations by The Tennessean have raised questions about the agency’s oversight abilities after revealing millions of dollars in questionable DHS payments to subcontractors.

…Hatter’s budget presentation Monday was the first from 26 state agency heads expected to appear before Gov. Bill Haslam this week as he crafts an annual spending proposal that probably will top $34 billion. Haslam has asked all agencies, including DHS, to present proposed 3.5 percent cuts in their budgets.

Six of 97 positions would be eliminated in the Division of Quality Improvement and Strategic Solutions and seven of 125 staff positions would be cut in the the Office of Inspector General, which investigates referrals of potential fraud, waste and abuse in the programs. All of those positions are currently vacant, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin. Jarnagin said none of the proposed eliminated positions are directly related to fraud, and some of the proposed cuts relate to decreasing caseloads in the agency’s food stamp and Families First, Tennessee’s welfare-to-work programs.

The number of families served by the state’s food stamp program has decreased about 12 percent between January 2014 and October 2015, while the caseload for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has decreased by about 30 percent, according to Jarnagin. The state’s child care subsidy program has decreased by 32 percent.

The reductions, Hatter said Monday, “will have no impact on services.”

At a hearing in August, lawmakers quizzed Hatter on whether she had enough staff to adequately monitor fraud and abuse in food programs for low-income children after numerous reports of fraud. At the time, Hatter responded, “I don’t know because we haven’t done an analysis.”

…Since Haslam took office, DHS has cut 838 employees, or 15 percent of its staff, from 5,564 positions in 2012 to 4,726 this year. Two hundred of those job cuts were a result of shifting responsibility for processing TennCare applications to the TennCare Bureau.

In total, Hatter is requesting 131 staff cuts and a $3 million reduction in state funds for the agency for the 2017 fiscal year ā€” between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. The agency’s total annual budget tops $3 billion, with the largest portion funded by federal dollars for social service programs such as food stamps, subsidized child care and welfare-to-work program costs.