The House of Delegates passed a bill that would establish significant pay increases for state social service workers, aimed at incentivizing them to stay on the job with increases of up to about 20%.
Officials say this will not automatically solve the problem of job vacancies among child protective services workers, but it is a start.
“I think this could be one of the most important bills we’ve been looking at all year,” said Delegate Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, who was referring to wage increases for social service workers as well. than to other aspects of the law.
Delegates passed Bill 99-1 with only Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, voting against. The bill now goes to the State Senate.
House Bill 4344 would require wage increases to encourage recruitment and retention of employees who include adult protective services and child protective services workers. The increases are 15% per employee on top of the average 5% salary increases for state employees pushed by Gov. Jim Justice.
The Department of Health and Human Resources budget presentation revealed 1,400 vacancies out of the agency’s 6,400 full-time positions.
The highest number of openings, 836, are for people who would earn less than $32,000 a year. The second highest position, 573 positions, is for workers paid in a wide range of $32,000 to $64,000 per year.
“Look, DHHR employees have a very difficult job that they do for meager or modest pay,” Pinson said. “We need to slow down the turnover rate in the state of West Virginia. We need to fix vacancy rates in the DHHR, which are currently at 30% statewide.
House Bill 4344 also makes a series of changes to state policies governing foster care, including requiring child placement services to provide services to kinship families and requiring that the agency uses updated computer systems and clarifying some of the roles of the foster care mediator.
Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, also praised the bill.
“This is just a glimpse of what we can do to improve our system,” she said. “There has been a lot of work, a lot of effort and central to this bill is helping the most vulnerable in West Virginia.”
House Health President Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, noted that it was the second major bill passed by the House in the past two years to try to reform West Virginia’s foster care system. .
“I think we’ve come up with another really good product for moving the ball forward,” Rohrbach said. “So we will continue to work because that is probably as important as anything this legislature deals with, our children.”