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State Hiring Freeze Slowed Texas' Response To Harvey Victims, Union Says

Mose Buchele
Judy Lugo, president of the Texas State Employees Union, said a state hiring freeze hurt people trying to get help after Hurricane Harvey.

A hiring freeze for most state jobs hurt Texas’ ability to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, the state employees union says.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the hiring freeze earlier this year to save money. At Texas Health and Human Services, that meant 600 vacancies for “eligibly workers” went unfilled, union President Judy Lugo said.

“Eligibility workers are the people that process the forms to help people get food stamps – which they call SNAP now – Medicaid and TANF, which is temporary assistance for needy families,” Lugo said.

Eligibility workers also determine who qualifies for assistance in the event of a disaster.

“They didn’t really have enough staff [after Harvey hit],” Lugo said. “When clients first started applying, they didn’t have the ability to do what they call the D-SNAP, the disaster SNAP.”

The union said the hiring freeze not only hurt Harvey victims who haven’t received adequate services, but also other Texans seeking help (because staff was busy doing disaster response) and state employees who were forced to work overtime. 

When asked for a reaction, an HHS spokesperson emailed a statement calling the agency’s Harvey response “a success.”

“As a large agency, we can and do shift and flex staff where they are needed to get the job done,” it read.

The department also said disaster food stamps are “not designed to be immediately” available.

The email did not address the 600 unfilled positions at the agency.

The hiring freeze ended at the beginning of the month, so those vacancies can now be filled. Still, union officials said, the staffing crunch will continue as new hires are trained.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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