R.I. child-housing agencies decry DCYF’s planned 12.5% reimbursement rate cut

TRISTA PICCOLA, R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families director, says the department faces a $10 million deficit in 2018. / COURTESY CAPITOL TV
TRISTA PICCOLA, R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families director, says the department faces a $10 million deficit in 2018. / COURTESY CAPITOL TV

PROVIDENCE — Two weeks ago, Marty Sinnott, president and CEO of social service agency Child & Family, said he got a call from the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families warning him to start planning for a proposed 12.5 percent cut in reimbursement rates to agencies for children living in state-contracted residential housing.

Sinnott said a 12.5 percent cut in the per-child reimbursement rate would result in a funding cut of $400,000 annually for his agency.

Though there’s nothing in writing about the proposed cut yet, “When they [the DCYF] say, ‘Get ready for a 12.5 percent cut,’ we take them seriously,” Sinnott said.

Sinnott said the cut is a bad policy, a knee-jerk reaction to a short-term budget shortfall.

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Child & Family, in Middletown, is one of several Rhode Island nonprofits under contract to provide assessment and access to needed services for children who have been removed from their families due to trauma and for whom residential housing is deemed the most appropriate next step. The agency, established in 1866, operates five homes for young people, all on Aquidneck Island, and serves upward of 40 children at a given time, ranging in age from 10 to 17 years old.

Tanja Kubas-Meyer, executive director of the R.I. Coalition for Children and Families, said there are about 10 member agencies affected by the cut, including Child & Family. She said the cut was presented during both the House and Senate finance committee meetings earlier this month.

During the Senate Finance Committee meeting Dec. 5, DCYF Director Trista Piccola noted the department faces a $10 million deficit in 2018, according to its first-quarter report. She said the department is reducing reimbursement rates for children living in state-run residential housing by 12.5 percent, as well as examining per diem rates for family preservation services, and eliminating direct-service contracts (which will not impact families currently receiving those services). The department is also closing one of its assessment/stabilization centers, saving the department about $4.1 million. The cuts still leave a $5.9 million deficit, she said.

“We’re very concerned that budget-driven decision-making by the state is driving cuts in residential provider programs,” Kubas-Meyer said.

Kubas-Meyer and Sinnott each noted DCYF’s intended long-term goal is to move away from residential houses, or group homes, but urged a more carefully planned move in that direction rather than allowing budget concerns to move the process haphazardly.

Sinnott said he believes a continued, gradual reduction in the number of residential houses is called for instead of a swift phaseout. Child & Family has gradually reduced the number of residential homes it operates by half, over the last four years, Sinnott said.

“This is not the way that this should be done when you’re dealing with children,” Kubas-Meyer said. She said the budget-driven move away from residential homes doesn’t leave enough planning for the new approach to be phased in responsibly.

The current state contract and associate reimbursement rates for providers of residential housing were set less than one year ago and were based on current operating costs as well as state mandates for maintaining best practices, such as the ratio of children to adult staff, designed to ensure quality care and safety for these children at all times, Sinnott said.

Kubas-Meyer said the proposed rate cut could result in the loss of as many as 100 jobs, perhaps more depending on whether agencies can easily absorb the sudden switch in reimbursement.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s press office could not be reached for comment by press time.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com

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