Hugh McQuaid photo
OPM Secretary Ben Barnes talks about hiring as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy watches (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Next week, about 90 non-union state-appointed officials will get a pay boost along with tens of thousands of unionized state employees.     

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes told Governor’s Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian that the 3 percent cost of living increase for the non-union employees will cost less than $250,000 a year. Add that to the union employees who will be receiving raises and the total package will cost about $125 million.

Barnes explained that the group of non-union employees have not received raises since 2008. The raises for the union employees were negotiated as part of the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement finalized in 2011.

State agency commissioners and deputy commissioners and senior staff in the governor’s office and the Office of Policy and Management are not included in the non-union group of employees who will be getting raises.

“Note that the other state employers — namely the higher education units and the legislative and judicial branches — have been briefed on our intentions and will implement parallel adjustments,” Barnes wrote in his June 24 memo to Ojakian.

Earlier in the day, Barnes delivered more good employment news to state agency commissioners. He told them that he’s loosening rules around the hiring freeze enacted in January.

“I just wanted you to know that we’ve shifted direction,” Barnes told the group.

With the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, Barnes said each agency has been assigned new hiring freeze targets.

“Now we are scrutinizing their hiring based on their ability to live within that reduced budget,” Barnes said Tuesday.

Previously, under the Jan. 22 memo, the standard was slightly different.

“In no case will hiring be approved which would result in an increase in the number of filled positions beyond the currently filled level; requests to fill positions will only be considered as new vacancies occur,” according to the memo.

But Barnes said Tuesday that they will continue to require that more than the authorized position count be held vacant for more of the year in every agency. Call it a “soft” hiring freeze.

However, there are at least two ongoing class-action lawsuits against the Department of Social Services, which — if the plaintiffs are successful — could require the state to hire more workers to process Medicaid and food stamp eligibility applications.

Last month in U.S. District Court, New Haven Legal Assistance Association attorney Sheldon Toubman argued that 220 new eligibility workers, who process both Medicaid and food stamp applications, wasn’t enough to comply with the processing time required by federal law. Closing arguments in the case were June 4 and a motion for a permanent injunction also was filed. The state has yet to respond to it and was granted an extension of time to make its arguments.

Another federal court judge issued a permanent injunction against the state in May for processing food stamps in a tardy manner. In that case, the state has been ordered to comply with the 30-day deadline for processing food stamp applications.

But Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby said Tuesday that he won’t be asking Barnes for any more eligibility workers.

For the first time in 40 years, Bremby said they changed how the applications were being processed and now 80 percent of them are getting resolved during a clients first visit.

“Someone walks in with an application, 80 percent of those are going home determined,” Bremby said. The new processing avoids having clients come back five or six times to the office to find out if they’re eligible for benefits, he said.

“We don’t need additional people at this point,” Bremby insisted. “We believe that we’re going to get the capacity and efficiencies we need out of technology and process change.”

He said if the “timeliness is not improving” then seeking permission to hire more people may be a consideration. But he’s optimistic that won’t be the case.

On July 8, the stacks of paper applications will be gone and eligibility workers will only be looking at applications on their computer screens, he said.

The entire modernization effort which will allow clients to apply online will be fully operational by early 2014.

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