/To fix funding mistake, Child Protection Services likely rejoins Human Services

To fix funding mistake, Child Protection Services likely rejoins Human Services

This move was made just days after Child Protection Services revealed a $39million hole in its fiscal year 2018 budget. It would make CPS a sub agency of the Department of Human Services. Jess Dickinson is the agency’s commissioner. He said that the move was primarily administrative and designed to assist Child Protection Services in receiving federal matching funds. This comes after the agency split with DHS in 2016. CPS is also eligible for federal matching funds. However, Mississippi’s Department of Human Services enjoys a higher federal match rate. Dickinson stated that it was a difficult prospect and they had to act quickly. “So the best financial situation for CPS is that it remains a sub-agency, so we can draw down federal funds,” Dickinson said. There are currently two bills in the House and Senate to join the agencies. Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton), who worked with CPS to draft the House bill, said that the legislation “won’t change the substance of what these agencies operate.” It would also reunite Child Protection Services and the Department of Human Services on June 1, coincidentally the day the separation of the two agencies would have been completed. Dickinson stated Monday to a House subcommittee that CPS will likely be financially solvent for fiscal 2019. If the Legislature can again fold Child Protection Services within the Department of Human Services umbrella. He admits that it is not certain where CPS will find the $40 million needed to remain financially solvent for fiscal 2018. Child Protection Services, unlike many other state agencies, is unable make staff cuts due to the same court-ordered settlement agreement which forced them to split. Dickinson stated that when it comes to cutting our budget, there isn’t much you can do if you get into the details of how to care. It’s a serious problem. These are not discretionary items. These children are our responsibility. According to Dickinson, the most likely scenario is that funds will be sourced from both state and federal dollars. He said that if the state can appoint two-thirds the money needed to cover the deficit (roughly $26 million), the remainder will likely be from federal funds. Dickinson stated that the Legislature appears to have realized that there will be a deficit appropriation. The governor and DHS seem serious about finding additional federal money. To improve our financial situation, that’s all there is. It’s possible. It will work out, if you’d like my opinion. It will take some time. “But nobody wants these children on the streets so I think everyone’s going to respond.” The origins of the current financial crisis stem from 2004, when six foster children sued Mississippi for failing adequately care for their children. The plaintiffs were sided by the federal court, which has completely rebuilt the agency. It now mandates everything, from the minimum staffing levels to the allocation of money. However, the most significant change was that the Legislature had to create a separate agency for the Child and Family Services division. Previously, it was a division within DHS. However, in their rush to agree to the settlement, lawmakers may have missed a crucial element of any agency, which is how it funds. When Dickinson declared the record-breaking deficit last week at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Meeting, Sen. Terry Burton (Republican from Newton) admitted that the Legislature “didn’t do it right.” Gipson, who sponsored the House bill to make CPS an agency of DHS, further elaborated on the matter after Monday’s House Appropriations Subcommittee Meeting. Gipson stated, “I would like to at some point peel back the layers to determine what happened here and what false assumptions got me to this point.” “We are not in the business to create new agencies. Many of the agencies that we have had for decades are still in existence. Some even more. So this is a unique crisis driven by this settlement and a unique set of circumstances.”