The state Department of Social Services, which is under orders from lawmakers to hire more caseworkers to help abused children, also has added several executive positions under the agency’s new director and now has 18 employees making $100,000 or more a year.
The agency provided the information to The Greenville News following a state Freedom of Information Act request.
DSS Director Susan Alford, who was hired by Gov. Nikki Haley last December, told members of the Senate DSS Oversight Subcommittee in late August that she is trying to modernize and reorganize the agency, which she said she found understaffed and spread too thin when she arrived.
“DSS is an agency that is recovering from a decade of budget cuts and other issues regarding its organizational structure,” she explained then. “We suffer not only from a lack of resources in the department but we also have spread our functions and responsibilities across the department to the degree that it has really interfered with good accountability.”
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Alford has hired a number of executives since taking office, some into new positions and some into vacant positions or modified positions. The agency employs about 3,800 workers.
The agency now has 18 staff earning $100,000 or more a year, according to DSS and the state’s salary database.
Alford’s annual salary is $159,130.
After a series of legislative hearings and a stinging audit last year prior to Alford’s arrival concerning the agency’s handling of child abuse and neglect cases, lawmakers provided more money so DSS could hire hundreds of new caseworkers and staff to lower caseloads.
Lawmakers authorized the hiring of 177 more staff in the current budget year and DSS has asked for $32.6 million in next year’s budget, including money to hire 157 additional staff. Wingo said 146 of the 177 positions have been filled.
The agency currently operates at a budget of $692 million, but only about $133 million of that comes from the state’s General Fund, according to legislative budget records. Most of the agency’s budget comes from the federal government.
Lawmakers have registered concerns in the past about the hiring of supervisors along with caseworkers because they want the focus to be on lowering caseloads. Some caseworkers still handle 50 or more children each, and a handful handle 100 or more. The agency has set a goal of no more than 24 children per worker.
Sen. Tom Young, an Aiken Republican and chairman of the Senate Oversight Subcommittee, said the panel will address the salary issue at its next meeting.
“The testimony that we have received is that we need more caseworkers on the front lines to reduce caseloads,” he said. “While it appears that the agency is making progress and 56 substandard day cares have recently been closed, this new management salary information is troubling in view of the agency’s most recent budget request. Again, we will get to the bottom of it.”
However, Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat on the panel, said legislators need to give Alford time to manage the agency. He said it is easy to criticize any agency director for adding executive positions.
“At the end of the day, what I am most concerned with is results,” he said. “I think if she was coming in and making administrative requests but not adding caseworkers, I think all of us would be blowing a gasket right now. But the bulk of her requests, the significant majority of her requests, the money is going to add caseworkers and bring down caseloads. If there are some layers of management that are missing to help the agency run more efficiently, I think we owe her that consideration.”
Sen. Katrina Shealy, a Lexington County Republican who sits on the panel, said lawmakers are hoping Alford can better organize the agency.
“I think we have to give her that chance to do what she thinks is the best thing,” she said. “I’m not going to question what she’s done there until I see the outcome. I think we need more caseworkers. I don’t think we need more supervisors.”
Shealy said the agency has struggled with keeping caseworkers. The agency’s turnover rate last year was 39 percent, which has dropped this year.
“We need to be working on that harder than making new positions,” she said. “I don’t want to tell her how to run the agency because I’m not there on a day-to-day basis. But what I would say is we need to look more at boots on the ground instead of people in supervisory positions.”