DHS seeks more than 1,000 new employees to support child welfare in proposed budget

Oregon’s largest state agency is asking for more than $1 billion to add 1,664 new employees. But the proposed salaries won’t fill Oregon Department of Human Services’ cubicles with high-paid lawyers or bolster a public relations team. It will go toward protecting the most vulnerable Oregonians; children and the elderly.

For the 2019-2021 biennium, DHS is asking for a 17.8 percent increase in general fund.

“As we are trying to build this agency up to a point where it is solid, we need to align our resources with the services we need to deliver,” said DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht. “This will actually give us the foundation we need. At the end of the day, the focus is on the customer.”

The department, which boasts 8,500 employees and provides services to more than 1 million Oregonians, is asking for a total budget of $13.5 billion with $4.4 billion coming from the general fund. It’s an overall 9.2 percent increase from the current budget.

“This budget might raise some eyebrows,” Pakseresht said, adding that it’s his responsibility to articulate to the Legislature why the money is needed.

To be implemented, the proposed budget needs to be approved by the governor’s office, then sent to the legislature where it will start in committee.

Internal studies found the agency is significantly understaffed. Pakseresht’s budget would fill that gap by setting aside additional funding for agencies DHS contracts with; fund data analytics, the beginning states of a management system for the developmental disabilities program and other IT-related issues; and account for inflation.

DHS contracts with local agencies around the state to provide services to its clients, whether it be the elderly or the disabled. But the partner agencies have struggled to keep employees due to low wages. Bolstering funding to those partnerships will ensure the people they serve gets the level of care expected, Pakseresht said.

“These types of jobs are fairly difficult to do,” Pakseresht said. “If you can practically make the same or close to the same amount of money working in fast food … it takes staff away from those providers.”

Under the proposed budget, DHS would add 1,009 positions to the child welfare program, 174 to aging and people with disabilities and 96 jobs to the self-sufficiency program.

“What we are trying to do is create a foundation and structure that allows us to better serve the people who are receiving our services,” Pakseresht said.

Pakseresht came over from the Oregon Youth Authority to lead DHS about a year ago with the goal of pulling the agency out of scandal and getting it running efficiently and effectively. To do that, he said, he has to make sure the massive agency is running correctly. The right people need to be in the right leadership roles around the state. Staffing, he said, is important.

“We totally understand that based on the environment, we may not get everything we ask for,” he said. “We may only get a fraction of what we ask for. We are prepared for that, but we think it’s our responsibility to identify what we feel we need.”

Have a story tip? Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.