The Department of Social Services says it’s ‘holding the line’ despite significant budget cuts.

The department has seen $180 million in state funds withheld from its budget for fiscal year 2010, and spokesman Scott Rowson says it will be hard to tell exactly how much lower the amount of 2011 general revenue funds will be until 2010 is complete. Rowson says it will likely again be a decrease, but the department’s been preparing for that.

“One thing the Department of Social Services has been very aggressive about over the last few years is maximizing the federal component of our budget,” Rowson said.

State funds are expected to make up about $1.5 billion of the Department’s $7.6 billion budget. The rest is mostly from Medicaid and other federal funds.

“We’ve gone from $3 billion in federal spending for our department in fiscal year 2008, to what we think will be $4.1 billion this year,” Rowson said.

Rowson says at this point, the main adjustment for the department has been increasing efficiency.

“When times get tough, for Missouri families it’s the same type of thing. ‘Do we need satellite service, do we have to have high speed internet?’ We’re kind of looking at those things too; what would we like to be doing and what are the things that we have to be doing? So far we’ve been able to protect our core services and programs,” Rowson said.

There have been some staff reductions. The department’s down from 8200 to 7800 employees, but Rowson says that’s mostly through attrition.

He says there shouldn’t be much of a noticeable difference in services for Missourians. One examples of the changes for the sake of efficiency is the “enhanced customer service model’ being adopted by the Family Services division. It has to do with the way customers are handled in the division’s offices.

“Instead of every person that comes through our doors looking to apply for food stamps or Medicaid, a lot of that is maintenance. They’re coming in to drop off paperwork, that kind of thing, and they may not need to see a staff person. This enhanced customer service model says if this can be done without meeting face-to-face with somebody, let’s allow this to happen, and let our staff members that are doing really heroic work with diminished staff… do the work they need to do,” Rowson said.

Rowson says an extra challenge is that employees are also being asked to do more, as the slow economic times bring more people into the department’s programs.

Rowson says the Governor has also asked the department to look at whether some of the county offices could be merged for certain agencies. He says that’s in the very early stages, as each potential merger would have to be viewed on a case-by-case basis, deciding if it makes logistical and financial sense.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports (:63 mp3)