Dept. of Social Services hit hard with budget cuts

By Brandi Cummings - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The 120 employees the Department of Social Services lost in March are just the tip of the iceberg when you consider how much money the agency has lost in just a matter of months.

DSS Director Dr. Kathleen Hayes say there are no plans to fill the $15.7 million dollar shortfall.

One in five South Carolinians get help from DSS and the total adds up to nearly a million people.

Dr. Hayes says the economy has hit her agency hard.

"DSS has had an unusual combination of really negative things that have happened," said Hayes.

In the last 18 months, DSS has lost nearly 27 percent of its budget. At least $48 million in state money is gone. Another $72 million in federal money is gone because the state is not providing enough money to match it. To add to that, another $15.7 million in federal money for states with high poverty is also gone.

South Carolina was only one of two states even getting the money for high poverty, but when the recession hit, larger states started to qualify.

"Right now we're between a fund quickly being used and having to get it replenished and it going to take several years for that to be replenished," said Hayes.

Hayes had prepared for the loss of state money, now she's busy trying to make up for the federal money she wasn't expecting to lose.

For now state lawmakers are sparing her budget from the chopping block.

"We would not lose additional base funding to the agency and they have in fact tried to find dollars to try and help offset the deficit," said Hayes.

Hayes says she's done everything she can do to save money through 500 employee layoffs, 5 and 10 day furloughs, a hiring freeze, cutting services, even cutting the purchase of supplies.

All this is going on while case loads are at an all time high and in some situations up to 900 cases per employee.

"We have people trying to protect children and vulnerable adults that for the first time are worried about whether or not we can keep them safe," said Hayes.

It is quite a dire situation at DSS, but there is one glimmer of hope.

Dr. Hayes says one of her employees have created a way to reform some of the ways they help South Carolinians. By the end of this year, applications for certain services will be online, allowing employees to help citizens faster and more efficiently.

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