By MEG WINGERTER
A bill to increase oversight of the Kansas foster care system hit a snag after state officials said its wording could jeopardize millions in federal funding.
The bill would create an interim oversight committee that would study problems in the state’s foster care system and submit a corrective action plan to the Kansas Legislature. The House Committee on Children and Seniors approved the bill in March, but it still must pass the full House and Senate.
But the Kansas Department for Children and Families, which oversees the foster care system, said following that plan could cost the state $48 million in federal funding — nearly a third of DCF’s annual budget.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reviews state foster care programs about every three years and requires them to make changes outlined in a performance improvement plan.
DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said the state could lose federal funding if anything in the oversight committee’s corrective action plan contradicts the federal performance improvement plan.
“Corrective action plans are by design not suggestive, but directive,” she said in a statement emailed Wednesday.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat and one of the bill’s more vocal supporters, said DCF’s concern is misplaced. The interim oversight committee couldn’t make law, so lawmakers and the governor would have to approve any plan before DCF would implement it, he said.
“It would have to have open hearings, it would have to have conferees,” he said.
On Thursday the House Committee on Children and Seniors will consider changing the bill’s wording to address DCF’s concerns about lost federal funding.
DCF representatives previously raised concerns that a legislative oversight committee would duplicate existing work and strain the department’s staff time.
But Ousley and other supporters said they think the foster care system needs a plan to improve outcomes for children.
“It’s important work, and it’s past time for improvements to be made,” he said.
Since 2014, a record number of Kansas children have entered the foster care system. At the end of February, nearly 7,000 children were in the state’s custody.
Meg Wingerter is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of kcur.org., Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @MegWingerter.