Yesterday, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced, on the first day of the legislative session which is largely overshadowed by the projected budget deficit, that they “found” $19 million to inject into the state’s faltering child welfare reform effort. Nebraska Appleseed has said from the beginning that the reform is underfunded and that an investment of resources in the right places is needed. However, this move and its timing raises ongoing questions about transparency and oversight.
For instance, at a time when the state is looking at significant across-the-board budget cuts, we have questions about where this money is coming from. In addition, a number of subcontractors still have not been paid on sizable outstanding debts. It is unclear whether the state believes they have responsibility for these debts which have and are affecting the service capacity in the state. There are also fundamental questions about whether the reform as currently structured is sustainable. Without evaluating the structure of the contracts and without addressing key issues such as the cost of non-Medicaid covered services, there is no assurance that the reform, or this additional money, is going to lead to the outcomes we all want for children and families.
As the legislative session begins this week, there is an opportunity to create much needed legislative oversight. Senators announced today that several child welfare proposals will be introduced and we are glad to see so many legislators concerned about and showing leadership on this issue. We are hopeful that, as the session moves forward, our state representatives will hear and respond to the calls of Nebraskans who want to see true reform of our child welfare system and an end to the series of crises we have seen over the course of the last year.