By Mary K. Reinhart – January 30, 2013
The Republic | azcentral.com
Lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation to hire 50 new Child Protective Services workers with a $4.4 million appropriation bill that could be on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk early next week.
The governor requested the emergency funding in her budget proposal, and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they expected it to sail easily through both chambers. Hearings are scheduled for 2 p.m. today in the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
“It will go expeditiously,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. “The safety of children is paramount, and they clearly need the additional money.”
The funding will allow the state Department of Economic Security to hire an additional 50 employees, including 31 CPS caseworkers. CPS currently is authorized to employ 970 caseworkers.
But the funding comes with strings attached: The agency will be required to report monthly to the governor and lawmakers on worker caseloads, case backlogs, the ratio of CPS workers to supervisors, turnover and whether it’s meeting training requirements.
CPS has been overwhelmed in the past few years by significant increases in reports of suspected abuse and neglect and the number of children brought into foster care. Average caseloads are twice state and national standards, making the job more difficult, potentially putting children at risk and leading to higher turnover.
The emergency appropriation does not include $10.4 million to shore up family services for kids and parents already involved with CPS, which Brewer had said was needed to bridge a current-year shortfall.
The DES has been struggling with an estimated $35 million funding gap that has led to delays for basic services for families, including parent-child visits, counseling and substance-abuse treatment.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the $10.4 million that the governor wanted this year will be added to the governor’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal for the DES, which includes $67.2 million to hire 150 more CPS staff and cover rising foster-care expenses.
Benson said the agency believes it can cover its current budget with federal funding.
“What’s most important from the governor’s vantage point is getting these 50 new caseworkers and support staff in place and on the ground where they can be most effective in supporting Arizona’s children,” Benson said.
DES officials said CPS can maintain services for families throughout the year without the additional $10.4 million. They will use $20 million in federal block grants and surplus funds within the Division of Developmental Disabilities to cover the shortfall.
“The department will continue to emphasize the need to fund this issue as part of the overall state budget in order to maintain services through FY 2014,” DES spokeswoman Tasya Peterson said in an e-mail.
The Legislature will suspend its rules and run identical bills in each chamber to speed the CPS funding through the process.
“We had an agreement with the governor that we would do it as quickly as we could,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Don Shooter, R-Yuma. “We’re moving as quickly as the system will allow us to move.”