Twenty-eight employees at the Tulare County Department of Child Care Services (DCCS) will lose their jobs one week before Christmas.
The layoffs–intended to close a $2.1 million budget gap at DCCS–were announced to workers last week then approved just seven days later by a 4-1 vote of the county supervisors on Tuesday, November 17. An additional 36 positions that are currently unstaffed will remain unfilled, for a total of 64 positions eliminated.
“Our workers are anxious, as this is happening at the start of a spike in COVID,” said Estephan Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents most county workers.
State Budget to Blame
The DCSS is tasked with overseeing and enforcing court-ordered child support payments. Unlike other departments of the county’s Health and Human Service Agency (HHSA), it is entirely funded by the state, and the massive hole in the department’s budget is due to a 14% reduction in state funding to similar agencies at counties throughout California.
Roger Dixon, director of the DCCS, said the agency exhausted all other means of cost-cutting before turning to putting employees out of work.
“We looked at where we could potentially cut costs,” he said. “The amount of $2.1 million is so great, we have no other option than to ask for layoffs.”
The department considered reducing office space, trimming operations and using furloughs to prevent layoffs, but failed even when using most of its reserve funds.
“Every line item we have, we’ve looked at,” said Dixon. “We’re running up to the edge of our cost.”
The move to cut jobs, according to Dixon, was delayed as long as possible, and the timing of the layoffs a week before Christmas was forced by the need to meet legal notice requirements, as well as in the hope such cuts might not be necessary.
“We waited because we wanted to see if we were going to be impacted by this and what it would look like,” Dixon said. “We were just trying to hold off as long as we can to not impact the department.”
DCCS staff members say the notice some of them would soon be unemployed was sudden and unexpected. The top-down announcement also meant no chance for employees to suggest and review possible alternatives to layoffs.
“We were given notice of this on the tenth,” said DCCS employee Michelle Jones. “They didn’t even really give us a chance to meet with them (administrators).”
Jones and her coworkers struggled to control their emotions as they addressed the supervisors.
“Our staff is very emotional. So am I. Why can’t we try other options?” she said. “Letting these people go right before Christmas is the worst. All these parents and children, this is what they have to look forward to in this terrible year.”
Delayed Payments, Wide Impact
The parents and children Jones invoked were not county employees and their children, but DCCS clients who depend on child-support payments for their livelihoods.
“This is affecting the families in Tulare County,” Jones said. “Think of all the families that won’t be getting their money on time.”
Ysenia Alverez, a DCCS employee of more than two decades, said that while the layoffs will not put her out of work, it will make her and the entire department ineffective.
“If you lose 28 people, my caseload is going to come from 600 to probably 1,800,” she said. “I can do it, but I’m not going to be any good at it. My families I’m helping are going to be hurting.”
DCSS employee Sabina Ramos said the layoffs and resulting loss of productivity will lead to an additional burden on social services as fewer personnel mean longer wait times for changes in support orders.
“For people to get a modification, it’s taking 11 months to get to court,” Ramos said. “Then, they have to use other county services. It’s a rolling problem.”
Internal Job Placements
Layoffs at Child Care Services will not be made by seniority; unsteady, cuts are being made to maximize savings while maintaining the minimum staff that will allow the DCCS to do its job. Dixon, however, admits efficiency will be a struggle to achieve.
“We went by position and we looked at where we could see savings,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to do more with less. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The layoffs mark the second time the county has shortened its payroll to make ends meet. The last occurrence was during the Great Recession of the last decade. This time, the county will attempt to place those who lose their DCCS positions in new county jobs.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to find positions for most of these people, maybe all of them,” said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Pete Vander Poel. “We don’t take this lightly.”
Those who lose their jobs to layoffs will receive priority when their positions are staffed again.
Concern for Employee Welfare
Supervisor Eddie Valero, who cast the lone vote against the layoffs, also expressed his concern for how this would affect those losing their jobs.
“Layoffs are first and foremost about people,” he said. “This is a very unfortunate circumstance.”
Dixon said the impact of COVID on the budget caught his department flat-footed and dealing with the fallout has been difficult.
“This has not been easy,” he said. “It’s something that came upon us relatively quickly.”
Dixon said even with the layoffs the DCCS will have spent all but $1 million of its reserve trust. He is unwilling to expend more money or delay layoffs because there is no assurance more state funding will arrive. If the state receives federal relief funding, there is no guarantee it will be used to replace the funds cut from his department, he said.
After conferring with Dixon on the possibility of alternatives to layoffs during a brief closed session discussion, the board then returned to open session and voted 4-1 to approve the staffing cuts.
“I feel confident in the steps you’ve taken after talking to you,” Supervisor Amy Shuklian told Dixon before the vote. “You’ve put it out there to your employees.”