DCF pitches restructuring for $1M annual savings

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The Department for Children and Families is proposing to restructure management of the division that administers many key benefits programs in Vermont.

The proposal would eliminate supervisor positions in the 12 district offices of the economic services division, the sector of DCF that handles programs including food stamps, heating assistance and Reach Up.

Under the proposal, the number of operational supervisors would increase from three to six, each of whom would oversee two offices.

State officials expect the proposal, included in the budget adjustment, would save $500,000 in the current fiscal year.

Going forward, they estimate the new structure would save $1 million a year.

"We've tried to take a thoughtful approach to our responsibility to provide services in a cost-effective way," DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said Thursday.

According to the department, fewer Vermonters have been using the benefits programs the division manages. Reach Up, 3SquaresVt (commonly known as food stamps) and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program all have seen a decline in enrollment, though there has been an increase in general assistance.

Deputy Commissioner Sean Brown said the department "deliberately did not look at eliminating any frontline staff."

"We're still maintaining our staffing levels so if economic conditions change we're able to respond effectively," Brown said.

He said the department hopes to retain the employees whose positions would be eliminated. DCF has been holding vacant some positions and taking other steps over the last several months in anticipation of cutting six supervisor positions.

The people who currently hold those jobs can apply for the three new supervisor positions and will have opportunities in the Agency of Human Services more broadly, he said.

Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees' Association, said the union — which represents the supervisors who would be affected — is still considering the proposal.

"I don't think we've made a final decision about how we feel about whatever they're proposing," he said.

Rep. Matt Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, said the committee is still reviewing the plan and asking questions to make sure it would not hinder the delivery of services to Vermonters.

"We don't want to be changing policy as part of budget adjustment," Trieber said.

He noted that in last year's budget lawmakers asked the administration to consider ways to be more efficient in managing state government.

"It's not surprising to me to see them really evaluating how to best manage these programs," he said.

Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, a member of the House Human Services Committee, said he has some concerns about ensuring the state would be prepared if there were an economic downturn.

"I'd be concerned if we did away with the capacity to help people in economic services," he said.

He expects the committee, which works on policy issues related to human services, will hear more about the proposal soon.

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