After IT contractors lose jobs at DHHS, remaining staff told ‘just keep the lights on’

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan
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After IT contractors lose jobs at DHHS, remaining staff told ‘just keep the lights on’

After more than 150 IT contract workers lost their jobs at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services over the state budget stalemate, remaining staff in their office are operating at “Just keep the lights on” mode, according to an internal memo obtained by the News & Observer.

The contractors worked in information technology and the majority of them were from CAI, Temporary Solutions, IBM and Accenture, a DHHS spokesperson said Thursday. The contract staff members’ last day was Jan. 31.

The News & Observer first reported Wednesday that 163 contract workers were cut because of a lack of a new state budget.

The DHHS spokesperson said the jobs were all related to NC FAST, which stands for North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology, and were temporary workers contracted by the state agency depending on the needed workload. Collectively, the contract workers cost the government $1.76 million a month.

DHHS is headquartered on the Dix campus near downtown Raleigh, but the NC FAST office is in Research Triangle Park in Durham. The NC FAST system deals with social-services benefits.

NC FAST’s chief technology officer and director sent the internal email to the program’s staff on Jan. 21, explaining what was happening.

“We hope that we will receive a budget in the legislative short session that ends in July 2020 to enable us to return to level of service our users and citizens expect. Please make sure to express your gratitude and support for those being impacted by the current situation. They are a part of the NC FAST family and will be greatly missed,” wrote Angela Taylor, the director.

“Thank you all for your support as we move into ‘Just Keep the Lights On’ model and continue to strive to provide to all our stakeholders the support and services we have successfully provided over the years,” Taylor wrote.

The budget impacts on NC FAST, according to the email:

Cloud migration, or moving data to remote servers, and modernization of infrastructure will be “delayed indefinitely.”

Significant contracted staff reductions in programs known as Food and Nutrition Services, Medicaid and Health Choice, Work First/Cash Assistance, Special Assistance, Subsidized Child Care Assistance and Energy Assistance. As a result, there could be slower response time from the help desk and development teams because of “the loss of subject matter experts.”

Significant reductions in staff in NC FAST’s child welfare program, and similar slower response times in the help desk and development, as well as in training and readiness teams.

Some IT programs in the works will be delayed “indefinitely” and there will be limited system improvements.

Significant reductions in contracted staff in the document management program.

Other projects will continue on a slower timeline.

Medicaid transformation

The memo also makes reference to the state’s effort to move Medicaid recipients to a managed-care system in which the state contracts with private health insurance companies. The email says some work related to managed care will continue.

DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen warned state lawmakers in October that the department needed funding in the new budget to operate this year, including to implement that Medicaid transformation. In November, with no new budget agreed upon by the legislature and the governor, the move to managed care was delayed.

A “mini” budget bill, House Bill 555, that would have funded Medicaid transformation was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper in late August. The House overrode the veto on Sept. 11, the same day it overrode the budget. The Senate has not.

“Passing mini-funding bills that simply divvy up the vetoed Republican budget is a tactic to avoid a comprehensive budget that provides for health care and other important needs like education,” Cooper said in a statement when he vetoed HB 555. “Health care is an area where North Carolina needs us to do more, and to do it comprehensively,” he said.

Republicans have said the delayed overhaul to managed care is Cooper’s fault. In November, when the delay was announced, Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican, called it “another crisis of Governor Cooper’s own making.”

DHHS said at the time the delay was due to the General Assembly not taking “needed action” to provide new spending and program authority for the transition.

Earlier this week, DHHS said that no state employees need to be laid off because of the budget stalemate. The General Assembly convenes on April 28 for its short session.

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