The House budget plan could send more than $127 million in new funding to community-based care agencies. But while most of the state would see a boost in funding from that plan, providers in Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Broward counties could see their funding cut.
Multiple foster care providers in Southwest Florida sought a change in state funding formulas to address inequities ahead of Session. And the House might wipe out any problems for those providers.
But with the funding increase comes a change in how dollars are allocated. That change could see more than $17 million cut from the budget of Citrus Health Network, which serves as the provider in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Citrus’ budget sits at around $77.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2021-22. That $17 million figure represents a 22% cut and could result in significant services being scaled back.
ChildNet Broward, which serves Broward County slightly to the north, would see a cut of nearly $6 million from a $61.5 million budget, a 9.6% cut. No other provider in the state would see its funding slashed; at least one provider would see its funding increase upward of 50%. Several other agencies would see boosts of 20%, 30% or 40%.
“It would mean being able to have additional case managers and being able to pay higher wages for case managers as well as the administrative staff that support them,” said Brena Slater, president of the Safe Children Coalition, one of the beneficiaries in the House plan.
“We would be able to contract more diversion services, more reunification services, and hire additional staff to expedite permanency for our children and families. More wrap-around services that are trauma-informed as well as evidence-based programs. Children and families should be valued equally no matter what part of the state of Florida they live in.”
Esther Jacobo, Director for Citrus Family Care Network, said the other regions in the state are underfunded and supported the state spending an additional $127 million.
“We’ve invested a lot of money into putting in front-end services, and we’ve been very successful at safely keeping children out of care,” Jacobo said. “When we do remove a child, what we’ve done with the money that we’ve saved is that we have added additional funding for the very high-end children that need really intensive services.”
Jacobo said the new House formula could incentivize agencies to remove children from the home.
“It incentivizes, unfortunately, the back end of the system — the children coming into care — without a whole lot of incentive on the front end,” Jacobo explained. “We’re being penalized because our population is going down; we’re safely keeping kids out of care. So the more we do that, the more money they want to take away from us in this formula.”
Among the Citrus services threatened by House reallocations are prevention teams (funded at $4.5 million), which help to ensure children can be kept at home safely, when possible; competitive salary raises ($6 million), which Citrus says helps attract talent to the expensive Miami-Dade market; and transitional trauma therapists and behavioral health technicians ($1.48 million), which provide support to children.
But more than halfway into Session, the budget process is far from over. While the Senate’s $108.6-billion budget overall comes in at about $7 billion more than the House’s $105.3-billion plan, the Senate just has $20 million in new money set aside for community-based care providers. That money, however, is not pulled from Southeast Florida agencies. It also would not nearly match the funding levels for other agencies in Florida.
Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, has pushed this year for a significant change in the formula for dividing dollars between agencies around the state. The change has struggled to find traction as a change in statute despite proposals for a glide scale that implements change over years.
Still, Rep. Bryan Avila, House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee chair, is exploring changes similar to what McFarland suggested. McFarland acknowledged permanent changes in distribution calculations might not happen this year. But the immediate funding problems facing providers in her region can be addressed with a higher number of dollars. Under the House budget proposal, many concerns about an inability to deal with looming caseloads at underfunded agencies go away, at least for the next fiscal year.
“In the 12th Judicial Circuit in recent years, our CBC has only been funded at 80%,” McFarland said.
The Department of Children and Families only requested funding similar to the $20 million number that’s in the Senate budget. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget upped that, offering community-based care about $30.5 million. The House funding eclipses that entirely.
Sen. Aaron Bean, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said the Senate recognizes a need for funding.
“I am fully aware money solves problems,” the Fernandina Beach Republican said. “You put enough money at something; it tends to help.”
The Senate’s approach has been to try and reallocate resources toward the community-based care agencies that have seen the lowest level of funding in recent years.
“It’s going to be a conference issue,” Bean said of the differences with the House budget. “We have so many different priorities. Both of us (the Senate and House) want to fund child welfare. They did a new funding mechanism.”
Whether the final dollar amount ends up anywhere near what the House envisions remains to be seen.
Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics contributed to this report.