Waiting for Help: 100+ child welfare positions held vacant to create budget surplus, Children wait longer for help
This is the third in a three-part series on New Mexico’s child welfare crisis. Looking for the beginning? Start here.
Since Martinez took office in 2011, the number of children enduring sustained mistreatment after CYFD intervention has climbed dramatically while workloads for agency staff have markedly increased (Source, p.22).
Yet, millions of dollars designated for child protection goes unspent as abuse reports and case worker vacancies skyrocket.
REFUSING TO SPEND MONEY TO HIRE CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICE WORKERS Upon taking office in 2011, Governor Susana Martinez implemented a policy prohibiting state agencies from hiring new employees. Martinez’s new CYFD secretary described it as a “hard hiring freeze.”
But that didn’t mean the new governor was spending less money – only that salary dollars were going for more high-profile special projects.
In an article titled “Gov’s shrinking budget funds new child abuse hotline,” the CYFD secretary explained that the money the governor saved by freezing CYFD salaries enabled the governor to spend $147,000 of the agency’s budget on a public relations campaign to promote the governor’s new child abuse reporting number.
According to data compiled from multiple state sources by ProgressNowNM:
- Despite this startling rise in workload for the agency over two years, the administration transferred $3.9 million from salaries to their general budget, then returned more than $6.6 million from that budget to the general fund unspent in FY13. The failure to hire artificially held the vacancy rate to three times that authorized by the legislature.
- In FY12, the administration transferred $3,000,000 out of salaries and into the general budget. But they didn’t spend it helping kids. They simply gave it back as more children sought help. That year the administration left $6.16 million unspent from budget items to help vulnerable children. (LFC report, p. 125)
- In FY13, the amount taken out of salaries increased to almost $4 million – $3.9 million – and the agency returned $6.6 million unspent dollars. At the end of that year (June, 2013) the administration reported 92 vacant positions for child protective service workers. That was three times the vacancy rate approved by the legislature. (LFC report, p. 125)
- According to various reports, CYFD maintained at least 180 vacancies. At least 92 of those vacancies in CPS positions worth $3.9 million in salary costs in Child Protective Services positions at the beginning of FY14, according to the state’s Sunshine Portal website.
- LFC reports that the agency had 262 total vacancies in October, an increase of 2 since July.
- CYFD itself reported to the LFC that it held 121 vacancies in CPS positions as of September 2013 – a 14.6% vacancy rate in this critical job function.
- CYFD updated that report to indicate 135 vacancies in CPS positions in December 2013 – an increase of 14 vacancies unfilled in just one quarter.
- While the operating budget passed by the legislature left just 5.5% of protective services jobs vacant, the administration reported a 16% vacancy rate in FY13, returning the remainder of the funding unspent. (LFC, Jan 2013, p. 42)
Martinez used salary savings and reversions (not spending budgeted tax dollars then giving it back to the general fund to build a surplus) to build a huge budget surplus she borrowed against to justify huge corporate welfare programs in the form of tax breaks, according to Politico.
Patrick Davis of ProgressNowNM:
“These positions are paid for by taxpayers and provided for by the legislature to protect our children. To ignore that mandate, the rising number of children in crisis and growing alarms from oversight agencies just to advance some ‘small government’ ideology is inexcusable.
“We can’t cut or prosecute our way to prosperity and safety for our children. This administration knew of the problems and chose to gamble with the lives of our children in order to build a big surplus she could borrow against for big corporate tax cuts. Omaree lost that bet and the data shows more children are in jeopardy and her newest budget calls for more of the same vacancies.
“Governor Martinez ran on her record of standing up for Baby Briana but what she has done – taking money from child protective programs and making children in danger wait for help – is downright criminal.”
CYFD initially claimed that Omaree’s claim had not been reported to the agency. Since then, copies of police reports and numerous people involved in the case have come forward claiming otherwise. CYFD has since said it did review the matter.
The death of Omaree Varela, a former foster child returned to his birth mother in 2011 after sustaining years of abuse at her hands, highlights the growing crisis and the increasing unwillingness of the administration to abandon “big surplus, small government” philosophies in favor of providing the necessary resources to reverse the trend. ProgressNowNM is calling on legislators to use the upcoming legislative session to investigate the administration’s failure to utilize the funds it allocated for these critical child protection positions.