JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson has turned back an attempt by Missouri lawmakers to boost the pay for frontline workers handling child abuse and neglect cases.
As part of a series of budget cuts inked by Parson last week, the governor slashed $2.1 million that had been inserted into the spending plan to boost the salaries of workers in the children’s division of the Missouri Department of Social Services.
Parson said lawmakers should not single out specific agencies when attempting to boost the pay of the nation’s lowest-paid state government workforce.
“In order to ensure equity across departments and divisions, specialized pay plans should be part of a comprehensive pay evaluation,” Parson said in his veto message.
As governor, Parson has attempted to increase employee pay in the state, calling on the Legislature to approve incremental 2% raises for all state workers during his tenure.
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“That’s important to me,” Parson told reporters Wednesday. “We are way behind in paying these people to do their jobs.
“We want to take care of state employees. We’ve got to have them,” he added.
But Parson has rejected some plans to address pay gaps in individual agencies. Other cuts enacted by the governor last week included money to increase salaries at the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Like in other state agencies, there is a high rate of turnover within the division that seeks to protect children from abuse.
In 2020, the agency, which employs about 2,000 people, had 26% turnover. Budget documents show the division was able to roll over $1.6 million from “increased turnover” of children’s service workers last year.
The state’s job website shows at least 30 open positions for social workers in the children’s division, with pay starting at $32,000 annually.
Attempts by the Post-Dispatch to determine how many employees are investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, as well as the number of vacancies for these positions, were not successful after the agency’s spokeswoman would not answer multiple inquiries about the issue earlier this year.
Frontline workers, however, told the newspaper the division rarely has all the workers it needs.
In addition to cutting the raises for children’s division workers, Parson also vetoed $300,000 from the $35 billion budget for a program designed to fight a surge of child sex abuse in Lincoln County.
The proposed pilot program is designed to help children who may be victims of sex offenders in Lincoln County, which is north of St. Charles County on the edge of the St. Louis metropolitan area.
The $300,000 would have paid for additional investigators, an additional prosecutor and support staff to address a growing number of sex offenders who live in the county.