‘Child Care Fund is going to run out of money’

County asked for another $200K as foster care, delinquency cases increase

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz In this photo taken Wednesday, 26th Circuit Court Juvenile Division Financial Officer Janelle Mott works on the Alpena County child care budget in her office. Mott requested a $200,000 allocation to the budget because of the cost of children who are in placement. If approved, it would increase the county’s budget deficit from about $750,000 to $950,000.

ALPENA — A lack of foster homes has forced Alpena County to house troubled youth in institutional and residential care facilities which provide kids shelter, food and other basic needs, along with, often, counseling they need to overcome any psychological issues they may struggle with.

Doing so, however, comes with a big price tag, and officials said the cost could continue to grow and have a larger impact on future county budgets.

At Wednesday’s Alpena County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee meeting, Janelle Mott, financial officer for the Juvenile Division of the 26th Circuit Court, informed the committee that the county’s Child Care Fund will not have enough money to make it through the Sept. 30 end of the department’s fiscal year.

Mott said that, through Feb.1, four months into the fiscal year, the department has already spent $152,138 of the $275,000 the county budgeted, or about 55 percent of the budget.

Because the money is being spent so quickly, an additional allocation of $200,000 from the county is needed to get through the end of the budget year, Mott said. She updates the county on the Child Care Fund monthlyand the shortfall wasn’t unexpected.

She said she will also have to notify the state about the budget amendment so the state can repay its portion. The state reimburses the county 50 percent of what it pays for child care.

“We are going to need an increased allocation, and I have been letting you know this was coming down the pike,” Mott told the commissioners. “After looking at the numbers of what we have and what we have spent, it is clear we are going to need at least another $200,000 this year.”

Mott said that, at the rate the bills are coming in for child care, it is likely the money still in the fund will be depleted around April. Any other spending would have to come from the Child Care Fund reserves, which has been shrinking quickly and is now only at $225,000.

The county doesn’t give the court its full allocation at one time, instead issuing monthly payments of $12,000. Moving forward, Mott said monthly costs for the children will be between $60,000 and $70,000. She said the county doesn’t need to deposit the entire $200,000 at one time, but could increase the monthly payment and stretch things out a bit.

GROWING NEEDS, LATE REIMBURSEMENTS

Currently, there are four kids in county-funded, long-term residential care, each costs between $190 to more than $300 a day. There are also 15 kids who are in foster care, costing the county $17 to $31 a day. Mott said there are as many as six more youth who could need placement in the future. She said some have serious criminal charges pending, or mental health issues. All have been in short-term facilities in the past.

The state’s 50-percent reimbursements come well after bills are paid. Mott said there is little help available from federal funding because the qualifications for Title IV-E money are difficult to meet.

“Really, the only reason we don’t qualify is because it goes by the income of the family and, most times, it puts them out of eligibility,” Mott said. “I think for a family of four, if they make over $850 a month, the kid doesn’t qualify for funding. That amount is nothing and tough to meet.”

County Treasurer Kim Ludlow said that, if the commissioners approve the additional allocation to the Child Care Fund, it would likely be done via a budget amendment at the end of the first quarter of the county’s Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 fiscal year. The amendment would increase the county’s budget deficit, which is already more than $750,000, by an additional $200,000.

Ludlow said commissioners have some options: The county can continue to make the current monthly payments for the same amount for now, and increase them when the Child Care Fund depletes lower, could increase payments as soon as next month, or could give it the entire $200,000 in one shot.

No matter what the commissioners decide, “the Child Care Fund is going to run out of money” without action, she said.

NEED FOR MORE FOSTER HOMES

For years, the money the county allocated for child care was more than enough. In fact, at the end of the fiscal year, unused money was returned to the county’s general fund.

In 2013, however, the county budgeted on the low side and allocated only $107,285. Then, more children were placed in care than expected and it caused a large overrun in the Child Care Fund.

When the dust settled, the county ended up allocating a total of $388,794 to replenish the fund and cover incoming charges.

Since then, Ludlow said, commissioners budget as if they will receive zero funds back from the state and are more conscious of the possibility of added expenses associated with placements.

Mott said most of the kids in care facilities are not criminals, but rather victims of difficult circumstances. She said there is a need for more foster homes in the county. Currently, kids are often housed out of town, increasing costs, and housing kids in facilities is expensive.

“More than half of the kids in placement are abuse-and-neglect wards. Either the parents are unable to care for them or have had their rights to their kids terminated and there are no identified adoptive families,” Mott said. “Often, there is nowhere else for them to go. The majority of this money is being spent on kids we don’t have a choice on.”

Other kids are in placement because they have had brushes with the law.

While in care, the kids get a high level of individualized therapy and treatment and there are therapists on staff day and night for them. Mott said the type of housing and treatment they need is something that is not available in Alpena.

“There is a funding problem,” she said. “Everyone is worried about where is the money going to come from. Grants have strings attached. Some require there to be substance abuse in the home and if there isn’t, they don’t qualify. There are so many criteria and, because of that, a lot of our youth fall in between the cracks.”

The Finance Committee didn’t take action on Mott’s request Wednesday, but will after Mott amends the child care budget for the state.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.

Child Care Fund expenditures

A look at how much Alpena County has spent on child care in recent years.

2016 2017 2018 2019 (to date)

Institutional Care $140,629 $215,769 $286,304 $152,138

Foster Care $53,443 $13,289 $28,263 $22,898

Total $194,072 $ 229,058 $314,567 $175,036

Source: Alpena County