Continuing challenges facing Nebraska’s child welfare system were the subject of a hearing Wednesday.
Last year, the state’s child welfare system was in turmoil in the aftermath of an attempt to privatize management of the system. As private firms dropped out, the state retook control of all but the Omaha area, and the Legislature enacted a series of bills designed to improve the system.
One bill required developing a standard, statewide system for reimbursing foster care families. Thomas Pristow, director of children and family services for the Department of Health and Human Services, says under the current system, foster families can be reimbursed from as little as $4 a day up to $18 a day, depending on which agency they work with.
Pristow told the Health and Human Services Committee that the state can’t have such a disparate payment system. "It is all over the board right now. It’s inconsistent and foster parents aren’t getting the pay that they deserve for seeing the children that they see at this point," Pristow said.
A committee appointed by HHS has recommended foster parents be reimbursed $20 a day for caring for children through age 5, $23 a day for children age 6-11, and $25 a day for ages 12-18.
As yet there is no estimate for how much that will cost, and Pristow said it was not included in Gov. Dave Heineman’s budget proposal. "I have no extra money, so I’m going with what I have right now," he told senators.
Pristow said paying foster parents more from a fixed pool of dollar might put some agencies at risk of going out of business. But he promised the Department would work with them.
Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton is going to introduce a bill to raise the reimbursement rates, and the Legislature could include money for the increase in its version of the budget.
On another topic, consultants have recommended the state could do a better job of accessing federal Medicaid dollars to help pay for services to children.
Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, chairwoman of the committee, said that could target help to children with serious emotional disturbances. "We have talked at great length in this state, about a population of youth that we don’t do a very good job with, because they’ve just been bounced from place to place to place," she said.
Campbell said bringing in more federal dollars would help the state use its tax dollars more effectively.
Meanwhile, senators continued to introduce new bills. Among proposal introduced Wednesday was one by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers that would repeal permission for cities to increase sales taxes by half a percent above the current one and a half percent limit.
The Legislature gave cities that ability – subject to voter approval -- last year, overriding a veto by Gov. Dave Heineman.