South Carolina’s Department of Social Services (SCDSS) vowed four years ago that things would be different …
And for a little while, it seemed as though the scandal-ravaged agency was moving in the right direction. Following a high-profile child fatality case that was exclusively reported by this news site, former governor Nikki Haley’s “rock star” director Lillian Koller resigned her post at the agency – and lawmakers vowed to hire more caseworkers.
Of course it wasn’t just the tragic tale of Robert Guinyard Jr. that cost Koller her job … SCDSS was a disaster on virtually every front.
There were questionable consultant payments and allegations of cooked books at the agency’s “welfare to work” program. Dubious data was also being disseminated in connection with SCDSS’ food stamp disbursement system – which was conveniently removed from the state budget the same year Koller left.
(And when we say “removed,” we mean the line item was taken off of the state books … taxpayers are still shelling out more than $1 billion a year on these subsidies).
Enter Susan Alford … who was tapped by Haley in December of 2014 to extinguish the dumpster fire and get SCDSS back on track.
Did Alford succeed in doing so? She certainly thinks so …
“We have had some tremendous successes,” Alford wrote in her “retirement” letter to agency employees earlier this week. “We have increased our recurring budget by over $52 million, and have been able to add much-needed resources on the ground.”
Is that true, though?
The money part is certainly accurate … but has SCDSS really added “much-needed resources on the ground?”
Alford’s ongoing failure to fill frontline positions with money specifically appropriated for that purpose – along with the prospect of additional accountability being brought to bear on her still-mismanaged agency – appears to be why she really “retired.”
As we exclusively reported earlier this week, Alford’s resignation came on the heels of a lengthy meeting with state senators in which she was grilled extensively over the caseworker issue. Specifically, lawmakers demanded to know why SCDSS – which is currently staring down a federal lawsuit mandating the hiring of hundreds of new caseworkers over the next three years – only managed to add 155 of the 650 new positions that lawmakers began funding in 2014.
According to sources inside the meeting, Alford didn’t have a good answer. Nor, apparently, did she have a good answer as to where the money went.
This week, our news site has obtained additional data related to the caseworker debacle – specifically a county-by-county breakdown of where these 155 caseworkers went (and more importantly where they didn’t go).
According to a spreadsheet prepared for members of the S.C. Senate, 22 of the Palmetto State’s 46 counties (48 percent) have seen either no change in the number of caseworkers – or have experienced a net loss in caseworkers – since lawmakers began ramping up funding for these positions.
Crazy, huh? Nope … it’s state government in South Carolina.
Take a look at the numbers …
(Click to view)
To be clear: This news site doesn’t believe every county in the state needs a SCDSS office. In fact, one of the biggest enablers of the Palmetto State’s ongoing “Mo Money, Mo Problems” approach to governing is its antiquated, border-driven structure – both vertically and horizontally.
Seriously … South Carolina has nearly ninety school districts, people. And just look at what that mass/ mess of bureaucracy has labored to produce …
Filling needs isn’t about checking boxes or shading sections of certain maps … it is about identifying where problems exist and appropriating resources accordingly.
Sadly, state leaders keep pumping money into these badly broken systems. They know full well without real reform things will never change – but they remain convinced they will never be held accountable for the ever-escalating cost of their failure.
And if the results of the latest “Republican” gubernatorial primary are any indication, maybe they won’t.
Anyway, it’s also worth noting the county which received the most new caseworkers – Richland County – is where a troubling child fatality investigation involving SCDSS is currently underway. Because apparently the more things have “changed” at this agency under Alford’s reign, the more they have stayed the same.
Bottom line? There is a lot more to this equation than just throwing money into new positions …
WANNA SOUND OFF?
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