LINCOLN — Nebraska could move out of the basement of foster care payments with a measure given first-round approval Friday in the Legislature.
Legislative Bill 530 would implement new rates based on a state-mandated study of the cost of caring for foster children.
But lawmakers, with an eye to the state budget, voted not to start the increases until next year.
The delay would cut the bill's estimated cost to about $2 million from around $4 million for the two-year budget period starting July 1.
State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, who introduced the bill, said the state has a responsibility to pay for the care of children removed from their homes.
She said the change could help recruit, support and keep good foster parents.
Foster parents say they do not take in children for the money, Dubas said. But she said not all foster parents can afford to care for children with the money provided by the state.
Dubas said Nebraska ranks among the worst states for foster care payment rates.
Sen. John Nelson of Omaha, however, questioned the increases proposed in LB 530.
The bill would bump up payments 39 percent for the care of children from birth through age 5, going to a $608 per month base rate, up from $436 per month.
That would work out to $7,296 annually, up from $5,232.
“That seems a bit much,” Nelson said.
Under the bill, rates paid for the care of children ages 6 through 11 would increase 18 percent, to $699 per month. Rates for older children would go up 11 percent, to $760 per month.
The rates were recommended by the Nebraska Children's Commission, based on a study required by lawmakers last year.
The study was part of the Legislature's response to the state's failed experiment in privatizing the child welfare system.
Pending the results of the study, lawmakers boosted all foster care rates by $3.10 per day for the current fiscal year.
Dubas proposed keeping the temporary rate increase in place for another year and putting off the larger increases.
She said the delay would give more time for the Department of Health and Human Services to test out new ways of assessing foster children's needs.
The goal is for the assessments to be used in helping set foster care payment rates.
Dubas said experience has shown that changes involving HHS and child welfare should be done slowly and cautiously, with plenty of oversight.
Under LB 530, foster parents would get paid the same rates statewide.
Currently foster families get paid different rates depending on whether they contract directly with the state or with a private agency that holds the state contract. Private agencies often keep a portion of the rates for administrative and support costs.
Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, firstname.lastname@example.org
More Legislature coverage, resources
• Map: Find your senator