Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 6:05 p.m.
There’s a nearly 25 percent employee turnover in the agency that manages the welfare and other public assistance programs and that’s due to the stress and the higher wages paid elsewhere.
Officials of the state Division of Welfare and Supported Services testified Wednesday that the current average caseload is 260 to one employee.
Division Administrator Michael McMahon told a joint meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees that was a high caseload and is recommending adding 470 employees during the coming two years because of the expected increase in public assistance.
He said his staff is expected to dress professionally but the worker can “go across the street, work in jeans and earn $1 to $2 more an hour.”
In talking about the problem, McMahon said, “We lose a lot of sleep at night,” and the agency has a “retention” program to get workers interested in a career in the division.
The agency has a proposed two-year budget of $617 million with 56 to 57 percent coming from the federal government for aid to needy families, assistance to the elderly and blind, employment training for recipients, child care and enforcing rulings requiring payments for child care.
The cash assistance to needy families is decreasing but the numbers of those applying for food stamps and Medicaid are rising.
During the coming two years, the agency plans to open four new offices plus hire the additional workers.
Lawmakers expressed concern about the number of new hires.
Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, called it a “battalion” of new workers.
McMahon said this was an “unprecedented new era” with the advent of the Affordable Care Act with more people being eligible for government services. He said the agency has “been working behind the scenes” to get ready for the new influx of persons seeking government help.
Sen. Debbie Smith, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, said this would be a “big challenge” in hiring and training the more than 470 new workers in the next two fiscal years.
Deputy Administrator Steve Fisher said there is an academy that trains 66 new hires, and the division is planning to raise that to 90 staffers in the 12-week program.
Fisher said one option in finding employees might be to go to other states. But Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said the division should focus its efforts on hiring Nevadans because of the high unemployment rate here.