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Shutdown has working poor faced with job loss

People who have worked to get off public assistance are now faced with the prospect of a decision of quitting their jobs in order to care for their children. 

Beth Wilms, Crow Wing County Community Services director, told the county board, the department is continually updating its contingency plan regarding the state shutdown, which cut off funding to various programs.

One program not considered essential to continue was childcare funding for low-income families and for the transitional year as people move off public assistance with the Minnesota Families Investment Program and into the work force. Gov. Mark Dayton requested another look at child care in regard to a designation as essential services. 

“We’ve had several phone calls coming in saying ‘If I don’t have child care, I’m going to have to quit my job,’” Wilms said. “Then the cycle will begin again.”

The county said there are 455 families with the MFIP child care and transition year who are not receiving any funding for child care with the shutdown, Wilms said.

“That’s 639 kids,” she said. “That is a huge impact for us.”

Wilms said the average payment per family is $604 per month. For those on MFIP, the average monthly child care is $846 and for the transition year, the average monthly child care payment is $648. 

Wilms reported the county’s out-of-home placement costs are at 53.14 percent of the annual budget at the end of June to be slightly over budget at 3.14 percent. 

As of May, the county had 139 children in out-of-home placement for a year-to-date cost of $1.4 million or $248,784 per month. Last year, the county provided for 1,596 children in out-of-home placement for a cost of $2.9 million. On average in 2010, the county has 133 children per month placed outside their family homes at a cost of $244,091 per month. 

The county’s 2011 budget for child welfare — covering out-of-home placement — is $1,529,029 out of a total placement costs, which include corrections placements — of $2.8 million. For revenue, the county receives federal reimbursement for various programs and recoups a portion of costs billed to every family with a child in placement. Although Wilms noted the county does collect a portion, many families don’t have the resources to pay.

For out-of-home placement, the county can bill insurance companies, recoup a little federal funding and bill families, but the collection is about 20 percent. The majority of the spending comes from county dollars, said Administrator Tim Houle. 

Board Chairman Paul Thiede said as part of the reporting to see what drives the expenditures, in complex issues, and what happens with the other 80 percent. 

Not all children in out-of-home placement are eligible for some federal reimbursement because of the family’s income, Wilms said. So in June, the county spent $177,693 in child welfare costs and were reimbursed about $32,000. 

Wilms said the department overall is focusing on capitalizing on all the options to be reimbursed, which in the past may not have been a priority for staff. In January, the county listed revenues for child welfare out-of-home placement at $20,269, it collected $141,684 in February, $54,285 in March, $31,315 in April, $106,095 in May and $31,716 in June. 

“Billing out our dollars for revenue has to be a priority for us and it became very apparent when we started talking about shutdown and our contingency plan and the ability to bill. Some of my staff was billing at less than 50 percent of the allowable billable time,” Wilms said. 

She said her expectation is to be at 90 percent of the billable time soon. Houle said the work was getting done but the question was if the county was capturing all the dollars available for recovery. Wilms said part of the effort is making sure staff has sufficient training regarding requirements for the federal programming and those standards are used with all the families.

Chairman Paul Thiede said it is a complex issue but advocated making it as clear as possible for people. 

“I don’t believe there is anyone who wants to say we don’t have a focus of child welfare,” Thiede said. “I think the taxpayers would agree that’s what we want to do, but monitoring how the dollars are spent and what we are getting for the dollars we are spending.”

County Attorney Don Ryan said he didn’t want his comments to be interpreted as being against tracking the money or being efficient and effective as possible. 

“To some extent you are asking Social Services to control something they are not in control of,” Ryan said. “They can’t control the number of abused children that show up on their doorstep or every month. Just like I can’t control, or the sheriff can’t control, the number of people who decide to get drunk and drive their car or beat someone under the bar. So it’s a cost driver that you are not going to be able to get a grasp on.”

Ryan said the county has worked hard and he advised the board to continue on its path. Sometimes it’s really easy, in these economic times, to get caught up just in the dollar amounts, Ryan said. “We’re still talking about kids.”

Thiede said he didn’t want his comments in any way shape or form to be construed as trying to control what welfare was doing. 

“That’s not my issue whatsoever,” Thiede said. “There are many times where there is a judgment call made that’s the reality of the world we live in. That’s all I’m looking for is accountability on what we are doing. ... I just think we need to be sure what we are doing is the right thing.”

Wilms said an updated contingency plan and discussion on funding is planned July 19 at the board’s Committee of the Whole meeting. 

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.