« Law - Part 2 of "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far" | Main | Ind. Courts - "David Camm civil suits shift into gear" »

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana to pay adoption subsidies to about 1,800 families"

Updating this ILB post from Aug. 12, this one from Aug. 8, and this one from June 3rd, Marisa Kwiatkowski of the Indianapolis Star reports this morning in a story that begins [ILB emphasis]:

Families that have adopted special-needs children from Indiana's foster-care system since 2009 will finally receive state adoption subsidies, officials announced Tuesday.

Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, said about 1,800 more families will receive such payments retroactive to July 1, which was the start of the state's fiscal year. The payments are meant to provide financial support to families that adopt foster children with more extensive needs.

Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday authorized DCS to pay subsidies to every family on its wait list and every family that adopts a special-needs foster child in the current fiscal year, at a cost of about $10 million, Bonaventura said.

"I'm excited," she said. "This is a great day for children and families that adopt them."

Indiana hasn't paid state adoption subsidies to any new families since 2009, when the burden for funding the program shifted from counties to the state. Indiana was the only state in the country to place families on a wait list rather than paying subsidies, Josh Kroll, project coordinator for the Adoption Subsidy Resource Center for the North American Council on Adoptable Children, said in a court affidavit.

That situation is the target of a lawsuit filed in June by La Porte resident Debra Moss, who claims DCS failed to pay promised subsidies while returning roughly $240 million to state coffers since 2009.

DCS argued in a recent court filing that it hadn't had the money to make such payments. On Tuesday, Bonaventura said Pence instructed her agency to pay the subsidies using money it would otherwise have to revert to the state's general fund.

She said she couldn't say why that wasn't done under the prior administration, but she said the roughly $4 million that DCS returned to the state in the past fiscal year would not have been enough to fund the program.

Lynn Toops, of Cohen & Malad, the law firm representing Moss, said the timing of the announcement was telling.

"It is no coincidence that once we filed a lawsuit to force the state to keep its promises in their contracts, the state announces it will start paying to help these kids," Toops said in a written statement. "We could not be prouder for causing the state to do what's right."

Toops said Indiana still needs to pay retroactive subsidies to the families that have been waiting since 2009.

"The state broke its promise to these kids, and it needs to pay them — the sooner the better," she said.

Niki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports this morning:
INDIANAPOLIS – Hundreds of adoptive parents around the state will get long-promised adoption subsidies this year under a decision announced Tuesday by Gov. Mike Pence’s administration.

The move comes after a lawsuit was filed in June and after publicity about the fact that requests for subsidies have been denied while the state agency has left more than $240 million unspent in recent years.

“Although the State Adoption Subsidy is only a small piece of the assistance the state of Indiana offers to adoptive parents, it is my belief that funding the program this fiscal year is the right thing to do,” Pence said.

“At the same time, the Adoption Study Committee is now looking at this issue, and we appreciate their work to develop recommendations that address the needs of Hoosier families and effectively promote adoption.”

It will cost about $10 million a year and cover more than 1,800 kids on the waiting list for the aid.

The Indiana Department of Child Services has said the reason it wasn’t paying promised subsidies to parents who adopted children in foster care was that the legislature didn’t appropriate the money. * * *

Just a few days ago, the agency filed a response in court arguing that “DCS can make adoption subsidy payments only if DCS determines in its discretion that sufficient funds are available in the adoption assistance account and that sufficient funds can reasonably be anticipated to be available in the account during the term of the subsidy. … This is a condition precedent to payment that did not occur.”

But a statement Tuesday said the state will make the funds available through “reversion relief” – or excess money in its current budget. It is unclear exactly how the agency will legally spend money on a program that lawmakers did not include in the budget. * * * [ILB - see below]

A restrictive federal adoption subsidy exists and is slowly being widened. The state pays part of that subsidy. But those who are ineligible for that program rely on state subsidies.

Before the Indiana General Assembly reformed property taxes, a county adoption subsidy was paid at the local level. Then legislators took over child welfare costs and raised the sales tax to cover that program and all school operating costs.

Somewhere in the shuffle, though, the state stopped paying subsidies for new adoptions. Adoption subsidies handled under the old county system have been grandfathered.

Starting in 2009, new families sign a contract with the state that says a subsidy may be available when funding is provided. And they are placed on a waiting list for such payments. The children are also eligible for Medicaid while on the waiting list.

Broden introduced a bill this year to mandate that subsidies are paid, but it was not given a hearing. The cost would be between $8 million and $26 million annually. * * *

Former DCS Director Jim Payne said people adopt out of love, not money, and said the number of adoptions had risen despite the lack of the subsidy. But adoptions have dropped since then – from 1,282 in 2012 to 1,033 in 2013.

The 2013 total is down from a high of almost 1,800 adoptions in 2011 and is the lowest since 2005.

ILB: Re Niki Kelly's question, as someone who spend a number of years in the Budget Agency, I know that appropriated money is easy moved around within an agency budget so long as Budget (i.e. the administration) approves. Bigger moves may require Budget Committee (a mix of legislators and the administration) approval. So money in the DCS budget that has been "held back" or marked for reversion can be spent, with approval from the higher ups.

ILB comment: We have seen this before, several times, with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles overcharges, and now today with adoption subsidies, state government action to right wrongs only in the face of lawsuits...

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 13, 2014 09:22 AM
Posted to Indiana Government