Naked City

State job cuts looming

The final number of pink slips to be handed to state employees this fall is still a big question mark, a state official told the state's largest government employee group last week. State workers have known since last June that the reorganization of the Health and Human Services Commission would leave many of them without a job. The estimates range anywhere from 3,000 to 7,400 employees; it all depends on how many jobs HHSC can feasibly ship out to outside contractors.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), the most vocal opponent to outsourcing in the House, told the Texas Public Employees Association at the group's annual convention last Friday that most members of the House and Senate committees that passed the consolidation bill were too privileged to ever have set foot in an eligibility office. "They don't understand. They don't have a clue," said Dukes, adding that these were the same people who cut CHIP and manipulated Medicaid. "These people are very coldhearted. They don't care about people. They care about business." The group gave Dukes a standing ovation.

So, no doubt, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that the man charged with making all those cuts – HHSC Deputy Director Gregg Phillips – sat side-by-side with Dukes on a panel on privatization. Phillips carefully walked around the first question directed to him, which was, of course, how many people would be losing their jobs. Noting that the "funding assumptions" of the appropriations bill left 109 Health and Human Services offices unfunded, Phillips said the current question is whether to shut those offices down or to shift money from other cost-cutting measures to keep some of those offices open.

"Rather than focusing on jobs lost, our focus is on savings that would re-establish programs that were the unfortunate victims of the knife," Phillips said. "I think our targets are better focused on how to re-establish programs that went unfunded." He added that the number of job cuts depended on what savings could be realized. The launch of a computer-based integrated eligibility system, which even Phillips admits got off to a bumpy start in a pilot program in Austin, will mean some job cuts. Now HHSC is assessing just what kind of cost savings would be realized by outsourcing eligibility call centers to private vendors, or whether an in-house call center might be an option.

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Health and Human Services Commission, Texas Public Employees Association, Dawnna Dukes, Greg Phillips, call centers

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