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Half of Petersburg residents rely on Social Services; department ‘plagued with problems’

PETERSBURG, Va. --There are major changes underway at the Petersburg Department of Social Services. State officials are now in the process of providing technical assistance to an agency many say is plagued with problems.

Petersburg City Manager Aretha Ferell-Benavides has met with DSS Staff over the past two days to explain to them what is getting ready to happen inside their building, including the possibility of senior staff members with the state taking interim positions in key roles.

"Out of 32,000 residents, we have 19,000 flowing through Social Services,” said Mayor Sam Parham.

Underpaid and overworked two of the problems in the process of being addressed by the City of Petersburg and the Virginia Department of Social Services.

"19,000 clients," Ferrell-Benavides said, and “a little over 120 funded positions with at least 20 vacancies.”

Those vacancies helping to add to the back log.

On Tuesday, Deputy City Manager Darnetta Tyus held a staff meeting and talked about the assistance provided by the state.

"They are henceforth and for ever more state employee's coming in to help, provide support and technical assistance for the functions that we already have,” Tyus said.

Employee morale is one area that is also being addressed. Officials said morale is low due to work load, the vacancies and the pay disparity between Petersburg DSS and the surrounding localities.

"Let's renegotiate what salaries we have identified for our employee's and look at what is the necessity and what's necessary for us to fill and maintain those positions.”

Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Duke Storen said  his office is well aware of the pay disparity.

Commissioner Storen said what is happening between the state and the city is a positive collaboration, adding senior staff members from Richmond could temporarily fill the Directors Position as well as in benefits and financial.

Commissioner Storen will visit Petersburg on Friday to meet with city leaders.