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LCJFS to lose up to third of its work force

Layoffs — lots of layoffs — and a lot less money.

That was the word Thursday from Lawrence County Job and Family Services Director Gene Myers regarding his fiscal year 2009-2010 budget. Describing his allocation as “catastrophic,” Myers told the Lawrence County Commission he will have $1.6 million less to work with this year than last year. Money for every program, he said, is being cut. And the budget cut will also mean a “significant” staff cut. Myers said the number of employees who will be laid off by today will be “in the 20s,” which amounts to roughly one-third of the county’s JFS staff.

“We’re going to struggle to provide services for Medicaid, food stamps, child support enforcement,” Myers said. “We’re already struggling with Children’s Services. Ohio ranks 50th out of the 50 states in services for abused and neglected children.”

Four years ago, the county’s JFS budget was $11 million. After subtracting the $1.6 million cut from his budget this year, Myers will have $4.8 million to provide food stamps, child care and other necessities for the most impoverished people in Lawrence County, as well as staff an office to handle an increasing number of requests for these services. Foster care suffered a 75-percent cut. Money used for Children’s Services was cut by 23 percent.

As for layoffs, union rules require a 14-day notice before an employee is laid off. The JFS employees are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). But both union and non-union employees will get pink slips.

“If we don’t do layoffs before tomorrow (Friday),” Myers said Thursday, “the 14 days goes into the next payroll and we’ll have to lay off two more people.”

Commissioners were sympathetic to Myers’ plight.

“I am disturbed by the state budget and how it will affect both people in need and the lives of employees,” Commissioner Les Boggs said. “I think all three of us are very distraught.”

“I think this has been a tough day for everybody,” Commissioner Doug Malone agreed.

Commissioners had anticipated a cut in the local JFS budget — the state’s bleak financial picture has been discussed for months as lawmakers in Columbus wrestled with what cuts to make to balance their own budget— and the JFS office laid off employees this past spring in hopes of being proactive. But the cuts were deeper than anticipated, leaving local officials to wonder why there was such a difference between initial budget projections and the final document.

“How does it happen? How can you be that far off if you know what you’re doing?” Stephens asked. “But we have to deal with it and we’re going to deal with it. It is what it is.”

Stephens pointed out each employee at JFS probably has 300 cases they are responsible for — cases that will now be distributed amongst the few workers left.