LINCOLN — Child welfare advocates warned on Tuesday that budget cuts proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts could put Nebraska’s most vulnerable children and families at risk.

Speaking at a press conference, the group said the cuts threaten progress made since Nebraska’s failed attempt at privatizing child welfare services statewide.

Sarah Helvey of Nebraska Appleseed urged state lawmakers to stand by commitments made then.

“Our ask today is for the Legislature to remember the promise we made that we would never again turn our back on children and families in crisis,” she said.

She and others pointed specifically to proposals to reduce rates paid to child welfare providers by 2.2 percent, to reduce contracts with private agencies for support of kinship foster homes and to end a contract for private agencies to help families who adopted foster children.

Together, the proposals would reduce state spending by about $15 million for the two-year budget period ending June 30, 2019.

State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said the Appropriations Committee has tentatively voted not to include some of those cuts in its budget.

The committee proposal makes no cuts in child welfare provider rates for most of the state, while increasing funding for the Nebraska Families Collaborative contract. The collaborative manages child welfare cases in the Omaha area.

The committee also voted to continue the post-adoption services contract using money in a public assistance reserve fund.

However, the committee adopted the proposal to reduce contracts for supporting kinship families. State child welfare workers are to take on that responsibility.

The potential of losing that support worries Sara Bair, a Lincoln mother fostering three children of a woman she has known for a long time.

Bair said she would have been lost in the foster care system if not for the help provided by Cedars, a private agency. She said state workers offered her little support or guidance when she took the three into her home.

“We’ve seen in Nebraska before that when foster or adoptive parents feel overwhelmed, then it ends up being the kids that suffer,” she said.

Amanda McGill Johnson, a former state senator who now works with the Nebraska Children’s Home Society, thanked the Appropriations Committee for its actions.

But she said lawmakers will need to fight to keep the money in the budget.

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State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said the Appropriations Committee has tentatively voted not to include some of those cuts in its budget.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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