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Beshear announces 10% pay raise for KY social service workers

Social service workers in Kentucky are celebrating measures taken by the Governor to address low pay and high caseloads in their field. Arlo Barnette reports.

"Thank you for this glimmer of hope today."

Family services office supervisor Shawnte West met with Governor Andy Beshear in November, seeking better support for her colleagues. On Wednesday, she joined him as he announced a 10% pay raise for social service workers effective December 16th, along with a pilot program that expedites hiring and a proposed student loan forgiveness program. The governor said the raises will be funded through approximately $15 million in the existing budget.

West says although social workers and social service support staff are dedicated to serving families, children, and vulnerable adults, they have been routinely underpaid and overlooked.

"We don’t do these jobs with the expectation of excessive compensation. Many think that those amongst us who are the helpers, who are the community builders, we are to expend all of our energy and personal resources to do the work of the Commonwealth that we love. Too often, we have been the first to be cut from the budget and the last to be fully restored and acknowledged when the fortune and well-being of the Commonwealth improves . . . Too often, social service providers and staff interchange roles with those that we serve in receiving food stamps, cash aid, and medical assistance just to keep our heads above water--and that should never be."

West says her 3,900 colleagues across the state have been a lifeline for the neediest Kentuckians during the pandemic, many handling dangerously heavy caseloads.

"When the pandemic hit, we packed up our computers, tablets, and notebooks and we went home to keep working to protect the most vulnerable Kentuckians. Many in our support staff stayed in the office in public-facing positions to ensure that families had access to the most basic resources to maintain them until the Commonwealth was stablized, when many of us began working at home."

Beshear said that social workers are front-line heroes, and will be included in any recommendation his administration makes on so-called “hero pay.”

"Social workers and social service support staff need to feel the love back--in making sure that we are cared for as we care for others--and we haved definitely felt that today, so thank you, Governor."

From the Office of Governor Andy Beshear:

The 10% pay increase will be provided to more than 3,900 employees in the following roles: Social services aide I and II; social services worker I and II; social services clinician I and II; social services specialist; public assistance program specialist; field services supervisor; family services office supervisor; case management specialist I, II and III; family support specialist I, II and III; service region administrator; service region administrator associate and service region clinical associate. Employees can expect to see the pay increase on their Jan. 15 paystub.

As part of a pilot program, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is working to hire entry-level social workers and family support specialists within seven business days of applying.

“Salaries are a big piece of this puzzle, but not the only piece. We are also working to expand the ranks of our social workers and family support specialists by expediting the hiring process,” said Gov. Beshear. “This is a major change – it’s light-years faster – and represents a strong push to get more folks in and up-to-speed quickly. If this is work that appeals to you, please apply.”

Another issue that our social workers face is the requirement to attend school and earn multiple degrees throughout their career. The Governor said degrees are expensive, especially when you take into consideration what these folks have been earning. In his upcoming budget proposal, the Governor will propose a loan forgiveness program for the state’s social workers.

“Our social workers are supporting our families, and to do so successfully they need our support to receive the required training. A loan forgiveness program is simply the right thing to do,” said Gov. Beshear. “To fully embrace our destiny as a leader in the coming post-COVID era, we need strong people, strong families and strong communities. Our social workers and family support specialists are crucial front-line heroes that are helping us create the better Kentucky we all want.”

“There are way too many vacancies in these roles, and the need to retain and fill these positions is high, immediate and imperative,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander. “We are grateful to the Governor for sending a clear message of support for so many of the people who work for DCBS. These people are our everyday heroes, who work on behalf of some of our most vulnerable Kentuckians.”

“The Governor’s plan will provide more income for these essential employees and will help ease the stress caused by staffing shortages,” said Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) Commissioner Marta Miranda Straub. “Higher salaries for these positions can boost our ability to recruit and retain new employees. Better staffing will create a safer work environment and better work-life balance for everyone.”

“I thank all of our social workers here today and those working across the state,” Gov. Beshear said. “In the best of times, the work our social workers do is among the most challenging and necessary efforts anyone can undertake. During COVID, this work has been twice as difficult and even more needed. With the loss of so many great workers, we cannot wait any longer to take new steps to recruit and retain our social workers.”

“Often, you are the only lifeline for people at their greatest time of need,” Gov. Beshear said to social workers attending the announcement. “You serve the lost, the lonely and the left behind, meaning you live out the true calling of my faith. This is enormously important work, and I want to personally thank you all for everything you do each and every day. I want to be clear: You are essential, and we need to make sure there are enough of you. To do that, we need to take immediate action.”

The Governor said today’s announcements would not have happened without the advocacy efforts of social workers and that the plan will be more effective because the ideas came directly from Kentucky’s social workers.

The Governor attempted to include funding for additional social workers in his first budget, seeking to use nearly $31.6 million to add 350 social workers over two years. Last year, his budget earmarked more than $7 million to fund additional social workers and retention measures. The Governor also sought salary increases for state employees, which would have also benefited our social workers. In these instances, the General Assembly removed the funding requests. The Governor is ready to provide funding for social workers once again in his upcoming budget proposal.

Social workers play a huge role in breaking cycles of neglect and abuse. They see the best and the worst of our Kentucky families and know better than anyone that there are far too many Kentuckians, young and old, who struggle to succeed, with hunger, domestic violence, substance abuse, physical and mental illness and countless other issues hurting their chances at a life they deserve.