COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's latest budget cuts, ordered Thursday under the threat of a disastrous unemployment rate expected to hit the state next year, slashed $383 million from the now roughly $6 billion budget.
Agencies and universities that announced hiring freezes, layoffs, furloughs and service cuts earlier in the year said Friday that deeper cuts are being planned. Many, including the departments of Public Safety and Health and Environmental Control were still figuring out how to move forward.
Programs that help elderly residents stay out of nursing homes by offering nursing visits in their homes will be hit as the Department of Health and Human Services deals with a $61 million cut, agency spokesman Jeff Stensland said. The same is true for a program that helps pay for home modifications, such as wheelchair ramps, as the agency pares spending on programs that go beyond federal Medicaid minimums.
The Department of Social Services says it has left 54 jobs open and has a hiring freeze, shaved 10 percent off contract payments and is closing satellite offices set up in some counties, agency spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said.
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Both agencies are part of Gov. Mark Sanford's Cabinet. Sanford has told agencies to "avoid cuts to those employees that have the most direct interaction with the public," spokesman Joel Sawyer said.
The Department of Disabilities and Special Needs essentially has frozen waiting lists for services such as programs for autistic children and people with developmental disorders and other disabilities, said Lois Park Mole, the agency's legislative liaison.
The South Carolina Technical College System, which oversees the state's 16 technical schools, already has laid off 16 workers and eliminated six vacant jobs -- representing more than 25 percent of its administrative work force. System spokesman Doug Wood said more layoffs are possible. Individual colleges have to handle their own budgets.
How severely the cuts affect K-12 schools will vary from district to district, largely depending on how much money each district has socked away in reserve funds, said state Education Department spokesman Jim Foster.
About 80 percent of districts' budgets pay for salaries, so if a district has very little in reserve -- or has already emptied its savings to deal with previous cuts -- teachers could get laid off, Foster said.
He said he believes most districts have enough savings to get through this school year, but they will not extend contracts in the spring for some teachers to return the following year. That means more students per teacher.
The Education Department itself is down 95 positions by not filling vacancies, has mandated five-day unpaid furloughs and cut help for struggling schools, Foster said.
Sanford is focused on wrapping up his proposed budget for 2010, which starts in July.
"There is no silver bullet. There is no magical way out of this," Sawyer said.