More work, same pay: state employees reeling from hiring freeze

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — State workers say many state agencies can’t keep up with the workload after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a hiring freeze earlier this year. Many lay the blame at the feet of lawmakers for digging this hole in the first place.

Last budget, the state had $113 billion in state funds at its disposal. The state ended up spending less than the amount allotted. Lawmakers gave Texans $4 billion in tax relief and dedicated $5 billion to Texas highways. Then, the state didn’t grow as much with a downturn in the oil industry. Now, we’re sitting in a $6-$8 billion shortfall, around $105 billion of state funds. To get through this budget crunch, lawmakers want to tap the state’s $10 billion savings account or delay paying the highway money.

During Gov. Abbott’s State of the State address, he announced the hiring freeze. The measure is predicted to save the state $200 million. The current budget does not include a raise for state employees.

For more than 20 years, Cora Bennett has had to be the adult in people’s lives. As a case manager for the juvenile justice system, she helps young criminals reintegrate back into society.

“I’m mom, I’m dad, aunt, uncle, friend, confidant, teacher. You have to be able to communicate with the kid on a level that lets them know you’re there for them and you aren’t going anywhere,” said Bennett.

On Wednesday morning, she joined others at the state workers march at the Texas State Capitol to rally for a pay raise. Bennett says low pay—around $35,000 a year—is driving people out. Bennett says approximately one out of every four people quit every year in her office.

“Job duties are passed down. If I have 14, 15, 16 kids and all of a sudden now I have 20 or 30 kids, well obviously you’re not going to be able to do the same job as you would with 15. We want children to be productive and able to get back into the community and not get in trouble and not come back into lock-up,” said Bennett.

She says her cases often deal with substance abuse and broken homes and the stakes are high. Juvenile justice case workers try and make sure that Texans who committed a crime as children don’t commit more crimes as adults.

We reached out to Abbott’s office to see when the hiring freeze would end, his office did not respond.

The current hiring freeze impacts agencies differently. State employees who are exempt from it include: staff at state supported living centers and state hospitals, criminal justice and the Department of Public Safety and Child Protective Services.

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