DiPalma critical of DCYF 12.5% reimbursement cut for child-housing agencies

[Capitol TV] Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, first vice chairman of the RI Senate Finance Committee.

PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Children, Youth and Families’s proposed 12.5 percent rate reduction for state-contracted child residential housing agencies, the result of a combination of policy and the state agency’s $10 million deficit, has received criticism from providers and Senate Finance First Vice Chair Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Little Compton.

On Friday, Marty Sinnott, president and CEO of social service agency Child & Family, said the proposed drop in the per-child reimbursement rate would result in a funding cut of $400,000 annually for his agency.

Both Sinnott and Tanja Kubas-Meyer, executive director of the R.I. Coalition for Children and Families, representing 10 agencies including Child & Family, protested what they said was a deficit-inspired acceleration of the agency’s move away from institutional care. Kubas-Meyer estimates the cut threatens about 100 jobs.

Kerri White, communications director at DCYF, said in a statement that the factors driving the DCYF’s deficit include an increase in families utilizing home- and community-based services, more children being placed with private agency family-based (therapeutic/specialized) foster care and kinship placements, and increases in adoption and guardianship subsidies to support permanent placements for children.

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“We have proposed a 12.5 percent rate reduction with our providers of institutional care in an effort to control costs and align rates between providers of similar services. But this is not the only cost savings measures we are proposing. The department is also working to maximize federal Title IV-E funding, and we are reviewing some of our home- and community-based services that are currently underutilized,” White said.

During the During the Senate Finance Committee meeting Dec. 5, DiPalma  asked DCYF Director Trista Piccola if the planned rate reduction was driven by policy or by efforts to cut costs.

“Is there a policy that indicates it’s the right thing to do or is it a funding thing, we’re looking to save some money?” DiPalma asked.

“I think it’s a combination,” Piccola replied.

White said the agency has proposed the rate reduction with its providers of institutional care “in an effort to control costs and align rates between providers of similar services.” White said the department is also working to maximize federal Title IV-E funding and is reviewing underutilized home- and community-based services.

White said DCYF has worked since 2015 to shift from what officials view as an over-reliance on institutional care to investing in more home- and community-based services, placing more children in family settings.

“We have reduced the use of institutional care by 28 percent overall and reduced our use of out-of-state institutional care placements by 48 percent,” White said.

DiPalma, who began the hearing stating they would not balance the budget on the backs of children and families, individuals with disabilities, or seniors in nursing homes, read from Senate Bill 2502, passed in 2016, which stipulates savings from institutional care spending must be reinvested into the agency.

“This is Rhode Island law about re-investing money that we save in [institutionalized care] to other areas, not taking the money from DCYF and sending it somewhere else in the budget,” DiPalma said.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer.

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