The expanded hiring freeze announced Friday does not affect the recent approval of hires to fill vacant eligibility positions at the state Department of Social Services.

In a memo to agency heads Friday, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said that previously approved refill authorization for most vacant positions had been rescinded. But Barnes said that some positions had been exempted, including the DSS positions and those involving direct care at state institutions.

In February, DSS received approval to hire 21 workers to handle applications for programs the agency administers. It also got approval to hire 26 retired workers on a temporary basis to process food stamp applications, following a warning from federal officials that the state could face financial sanctions if it did not process food stamp applications faster and reduce the number of errors.

At the time, the 586 DSS workers handling intake and case management were responsible for an average of 1,750 cases per month, a 65 percent increase from two years ago, DSS officials told lawmakers. In 2009, the department had 648 workers handling applications for assistance programs, but lost 120 workers to early retirements that year and only received approval to hire 58 replacements.

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Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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