Department Of Human Services Faces $19 Million Deficit

House and Senate money minders say they're not happy to hear the Department of Human Services might run out of cash by December, the month before lawmakers return for their 2003 session.

"This is another one of Ronnie Musgrove's agencies. I'm going to have to give him a call about it,'' Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, said Wednesday.

Gov. Musgrove's spokesman, John Sewell, said lawmakers gave DHS $75 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1 instead of the $94 million requested by the agency's executive director, Janice Broome Brooks.

Brooks warned lawmakers in late March that DHS would need more money in the coming months. Her warning came as lawmakers were still in session and writing next year's budget.

House Appropriations Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, said Brooks told him last week that "she's not going to make it on the first six months allotment'' of state money. That means the agency would be in a financial bind by December.

In a written statement, Brooks said DHS needs $19 million. She did not say what will happen if the agency doesn't get the money. Brooks did not immediately return calls seeking additional comment.

She said in March that DHS needed more state money for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a program paid by state and federal dollars. If the state fails to put up its share, it could lose federal money.  Brooks said the state money was needed by Sept. 30, the last day of the federal fiscal year.

DHS is not the only state agency struggling with its budget. Legislators, the governor and other state officials are looking for ways to get Medicaid through next fiscal year. Musgrove says lawmakers have shortchanged the health coverage program by $120 million.

Musgrove appointed the executive directors of Medicaid and DHS. He intends to call a special legislative session in August or September on Medicaid.

Sewell said Wednesday that Musgrove will not include a DHS budget request in a Medicaid session.

"Any time he has called a special session, it has been on a single issue,'' Sewell said.

He said questions about whether Musgrove will call a special session for DHS are "hypothetical.''

Tax collections have been lower than expected in recent months because of a sluggish economy. Most state agencies received less than they requested for next budget year.

In her written statement, Brooks said DHS has spent its budget reserves the past two years because lawmakers gave the agency too little.

Gordon said he doesn't know where legislators would find extra money for DHS. The state has a rainy day fund that can be tapped for budget emergencies.

"It's awful frustrating when you don't have money,'' Gordon said. DHS has about 4,300 employees and handles food stamp distribution, child support collections and other economic assistance programs.