Foster care reimbursement increases advanced

Senators gave first-round approval March 15 to a bill intended to overhaul Nebraska’s foster care reimbursement rate system.

Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas said LB530 is a continuation of work begun last year to develop foster care reimbursement rates for the state that better reflect the actual cost of caring for children. A temporary committee was established through legislation passed in 2012 to study foster care reimbursement rates, Dubas said, and this bill is based on the recommendations made by that committee.

“It addresses a significant shortfall in the way that we compensate foster families across the state,” Dubas said.

As introduced, the bill would require the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to implement by July 1, 2013, the reimbursement rates recommended by the committee, which are:
• $20 per day for children younger than five;
• $23 per day for ages six to 11; and
• $25 per day for ages 12 to 18.

DHHS also would be required to develop a pilot project to implement the standardized level of care assessment tools recommended by the committee. The department would be required to review the pilot program by April 1, 2014, and report to the Legislature.

A Health and Human Services Committee amendment, adopted 30-0, adds a July 1, 2013 deadline for development of the pilot project and requires that the project’s review report be directed to the state’s Children’s Commission.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairperson of the committee, said the bill and the amendment are part of a well researched strategic plan.

“It represents the Legislature’s commitment to continuing watchful oversight and working with the department to improve our child welfare system,” she said.

Dubas offered an amendment, adopted 31-0, that delays the implementation date for the new base rates to July 1, 2014. The amendment also requires two preliminary reports on the pilot project.

She said the changes would give lawmakers time to assess the pilot program and would cause less disruption in a child welfare system that has experienced a great deal of upheaval in recent years.

“My plan is that this is a much smoother transition,” Dubas said, adding that temporary, bridge payments to foster families would continue until the new rates are implemented.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz spoke in support of the bill, saying other states have faced litigation for not ensuring that the basic needs of children in foster care are being met. Paying foster families more would be one part of an effective plan to ensure that Nebraska meets this federal requirement, she said.

“As a social worker, I know the value that foster parents give to children who are in difficult situations,” Bolz said.

The bill also would reauthorize the Foster Care Reimbursement Committee, which would make recommendations to DHHS regarding:
• the statewide foster care reimbursement rate structure;
• adoption assistance payments; and
• the statewide standardized level of care assessment.

The committee would report to the Legislature by July 1, 2016, and would re-evaluate the foster care payment system every four years.

The bill advanced to select file on a 28-0 vote.

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