Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that Kentucky’s social workers will be receiving a pay increase, and that the state will increase its efforts to recruit and retain social workers.

Brashear said during a press conference that the state is seeing a significant number of resignations by social workers, and the time had come to address the issue head-on.

“After review of our current budgeting, good work done by Secretary (Eric) Freelander and our state Budget Director John Hicks, I am happy to announce two immediate initiatives, and one announcement about the next budget that will greatly enhance the lives of our social workers and who they serve, the first two pretty much right now,” Beshear said.

The first of those changes is that effective Dec. 16, Kentucky’s social workers will receive a 10% pay raise. This was achieved by bumping up all social workers and family support specialists one pay grade classification, Beshear said.

“We are able to do this within our current budget,” he said. “Unfortunately, part of the reason we are able to do this is we have lost so many social workers, but knowing we have to stop that right now, and this being a big piece of it.”

Beshear said he met with community stakeholders and Brenda Rosen, executive director of the Kentucky Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, to discuss the challenges facing social workers and what changes would have to be made in order to recruit more to the profession and keep current social workers from leaving the field.

“In the best of times, what our social workers do is truly incredible,” Beshear said. “In a time of COVID-19, there is not an adjective that can define the heroism that our social workers show, and there is not a word that can express our gratitude for what they do to help.”

Beshear said salaries are not the only piece of the puzzle that needs addressing regarding the state’s social workers, and he also announced an expedited application process for those wanting to become a social worker.

The state will begin a pilot program overseen by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that allows for social workers and family support specialists to be hired within seven days of applying for a position.

“In our meeting, these great social workers and leaders raised this as a specific issue that we needed to address, and it was one of the top issues that they raised,” Beshear said “This is a major change. I think it has been described to me as lightyears faster. It represents a strong push to get more folks in and up to speed quickly.”

The third item Beshear announced Wednesday is that he will include a student loan forgiveness program in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Kentucky currently has a requirement that social workers attend school during the course of their careers to earn multiple degrees.

“No one complains about that requirement for the requirement itself, we need highly-educated, compassionate, well-trained individuals to be able to deal with the most difficult situations,” Beshear said. “With where our pay has been, simply paying off your loans doesn’t leave enough to support your family.

“As we look forward into the future, knowing in this next budget that we need specific retention efforts for our social workers, for our teachers and for our nurses, I am announcing today that in the upcoming budget, I will include a loan forgiveness program for our state social workers.”

Beshear said that if Kentucky is going to thrive as an economic leader in the post COVID-19 era, it is critical that it have a strong group of social workers.

Nathan Havenner, Messenger-Inquirer, nhavenner@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-228-2837

Nathan Havenner, Messenger-Inquirer, nhavenner@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-228-2837

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