The good news is the governor’s proposed 2016 budget contains new state money to hire more child protective services workers, more money to manage the growth in the number of children placed in foster homes and even a modest amount aimed to help protect older Georgians.
The not so good news, according to GBPI’s analysis of the 2016 Department of Human Services budget is that the department is still struggling to emerge from the shadow of the recession, with the most vulnerable Georgians most at risk to suffer the consequences of funding still insufficient to meet the need.
Gov. Nathan Deal recognized the need to bolster the ranks of caseworkers and reduce caseloads in late 2013, prompting him to create the Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council. His announced goal is to reduce child welfare caseloads to about 15 per case manager by 2017. The new spending proposed in the governor’s budget is designed to help meet this goal.
The proposed 2016 human services budget includes $12.5 million more than 2015 to hire 278 more child protective services workers. Between 2009 and 2014, they were saddled with the cumulative effects of budget cuts while the demand for their services increased. The average caseload per worker increased nearly half from October 2011 to October 2014, from 13.5 to 20.1 cases per worker.
Foster families, child placing agencies and child care institutions, or group homes, are also dealing with significant unmet needs. The governor’s budget proposals add $9.8 million in both the amended 2015 budget and the proposed 2016 budgets to address an increased growth in foster care. Foster care placements grew 22 percent since November 2013.
The proposed 2016 budget is only enough to pay for increased capacity at current rates. Rates paid to foster families, child placing agencies and group homes could still prove inadequate to cover the cost of caring for children. A family caring for a foster child younger than five is paid as little as $15 a day. Child care institutions are paid more, but shoulder greater costs than foster homes, including larger staff and insurance expenses.
Georgians at the other end of the spectrum, people 65 and older, are the state’s fastest growing age group. That aging population requires increased support services. The proposed 2016 budget sets aside some money to address this growth, but is not enough, according to experts on Georgia’s aging population.
The proposed 2016 spending plan adds $690,000 for Elder Abuse Investigations and Prevention, but no money for additional home and community-based services. These services allow older Georgians to live independent lives in their own communities and to avoid moving to nursing homes that cost the state more. There are more than 13,000 people currently on the waiting list for these services, including home delivered meals, transportation, minor home repairs and other services.
So while it is welcome news Georgia is unwinding some of the damage done by recession-era budget cuts to social services, it is important to keep in mind that much more remains to be done for the most vulnerable among us.