Human Resources Director Mike Willden laid out a $3.88 billion budget Wednesday that includes adding 280 new staff -- mostly in the Welfare Division.
He said the staff increases almost entirely were driven by growing caseloads.
Welfare Administrator Nancy Ford emphasized the point, saying "in times of economic decline, social-services programs are a growth industry."
Willden told the joint Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees welfare caseloads have increased 54 percent since July 2001 to 31,547 as of Dec. 31. The food stamps program, he said, has grown 38 percent in that same period to 104,320 recipients and Medicaid has grown 32 percent to 164,801.
Willden said those caseloads are expected to grow by up to 15 percent a year over the next two years and that the new employees requested in the budget will just keep the agency's head above water.
But Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said he was more interested in the cuts to human services programs made in the wake of the budget shortfall, pointing out that it does no good to approve expanded programs if the money never gets to the recipients.
Willden told lawmakers that, because of the economic situation, many of the improvements ordered by the 2001 Legislature were reduced or deferred. He said a total of $30 million in welfare reductions and $16 million in general cuts were ordered by Gov. Kenny Guinn's administration.
Arberry said he will want much more detail in reviewing the budget on the effect of cutting such things as child welfare transfers to Washoe and Clark counties, domestic violence program money and other programs on the list.
Sen. Bernice Martin Mathews, D-Sparks, objected to the reduction in "kinship" grants -- payments to grandparents and other family who agree to provide foster care for juvenile relatives.
She pointed out that the state won't give grandparents the money but, if they give up the children to regular foster care, the state will pay foster parents more money.
"You're going to take these kinds out of a home where they know the people and yet you would put them in a foster home and pay more money," she told ford.
Willden told lawmakers many of cuts were unavoidable because they were trying not to cut grants for welfare, Medicaid and the Nevada check Up program for uninsured children of lower income workers. He said those grants were never reduced.
At the same time, looking at the state's tight budget situation, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he has serious questions about the idea of reopening Summit View, the state's juvenile prison in Southern Nevada.
That would force the state to hire 84 people and, Raggio said, build in large fixed costs for the state over and above the cost of sending those juvenile offenders to programs in other states such as Tennessee.
The discussions came during the over view of the Human Resources budgets.
The university system budgets will be reviewed Thursday.