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DSHS to cut 380 workers, among other actions

Budget reductions will affect mental health, children’s aid programs

OLYMPIA – One of the state’s largest agencies will cut 380 employees, give the remaining staff two more days of unpaid leave and reduce the amounts spent on long-term care, mental health, children’s assistance and several other programs.

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services detailed Wednesday how it will absorb the mandated 6.3 percent budget cut that most state agencies other than public schools must take because of lower-than-expected tax revenues.

DSHS is under orders to cut $168 million from the fiscal-year budget that ends on June 30. It’s the largest agency facing cuts ordered by Gov. Chris Gregoire after low revenue forecasts were released earlier this month.

To do that, DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus said the agency will cut spending on long-term care programs by $40 million; mental health spending by $25.6 million; children’s administration by $19.3 million; supplemental nutrition assistance for non-citizens by $7.2 million; and the Disability Lifeline by $6.1 million.

“This is not just about reducing; this is about resetting for the future,” Dreyfus said in a press release announcing the cuts.

The agency will also cut the equivalent of 380 full-time positions, either through attrition or layoffs; it’s already down 2,000 from 2008 employment levels, she said. Those who remain will take two additional days off without pay, one in November and one in May. Like most state employees, DSHS workers had already been ordered to take 10 unpaid days off between July 2010 and June 2011.

The department has 2,863 employees, most of them full-time, in Region 1, which includes Spokane and 13 other counties in northeastern Washington. It can’t estimate the number of layoffs in Spokane or any other specific region at this point, spokesman Thomas Shapley said. The agency employs between 17,000 and 17,500 statewide. DSHS is the first state agency to announce its cuts, but other agencies are under orders to have their plans in place by Friday. The Legislature could make changes after the session starts in January by rewriting the budget for what’s left of the fiscal year, telling state agencies to eliminate some programs and keep others intact, or ordering bigger cuts for some agencies and smaller ones for others.

But without legislative changes, state law only allows Gregoire to order across-the-board cuts for programs that don’t deal with basic education, debt repayments and federal mandates.

Agency plans are submitted to the state’s Office of Financial Management but aren’t formally approved by that agency or Gregoire, state officials said.

Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for the OFM, said the agency or Gregoire could tell a department head to change something but “we’re not seeing anything yet that we’re telling them not to do.”

Kuper added: “It’s about what we expected, given the size of the cuts.”

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