Cuomo’s State Budget Proposal for New York Takes it Easy on Child Welfare

Governor Andrew Cuomo budget child welfare family first
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his 2019 State of the State Address and proposed 2019-2020 Executive Budget in Albany January 15.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) released a $175 billion budget proposal last month  for the upcoming fiscal year, followed by changes released earlier this month to address a revenue shortfall of $2.3 billion. Unlike last year, the governor did not propose any major changes to funding for child welfare and juvenile justice systems for New York City, and kept most statewide funding levels similar to what he proposed last year.

One notable exception was included in the changes the governor released this month: a 0.8 percent reimbursement cut to Medicaid providers. The proposal did not explicitly include or exclude payments for medical care for foster youth. A policy analyst for a large foster care agency told The Chronicle of Social Change that they hope for clarification on that point, and are concerned that medical providers would be more reluctant to serve high-need foster youth, months before a long-planned system overhaul. (They requested anonymity in order to speak candidly in the midst of ongoing negotiations.)

The governor’s office said in an email to The Chronicle that they would “accept alternative approaches to achieve similar savings,” pointing to a Medicaid Redesign Team that will be dispatched to “address the need of vulnerable populations,” among other priorities.

Cuomo’s proposal also declines to restore recession-era cuts to the state’s Foster Care Block Grant, or to restore an expense reimbursement to counties for support services for at-risk families. As in previous years, he is also leaving it to legislators to re-fund statewide programs like funding for groups that support kin caregivers, and $4.5 million in financial aid for current and former foster youth attending college.

One of the few increases in spending came in the form of a reserved $3 million to help counties comply with the new federal law, Family First Prevention Services Act. The funds would be used “to expand kinship and foster care capacity” (and reduce congregate care reliance).

(Here’s a full rundown on child welfare budget items from the Schuyler Center for Research and Advocacy, which advocates for higher state spending on such programs.) 

Last year,  counties narrowly avoided a new cap on a unique expense reimbursement from the state for services for families at-risk of losing their children to foster care. The state used to cover 65 percent of qualified costs, now it’s 62 percent; the governor proposed capping the amount reimbursable for select counties like New York City. The governor had also proposed (and the legislature accepted) an elimination of the state’s roughly $40 million in funding for an acclaimed juvenile justice placement program in New York City, called Close to Home. This year, the governor revisited neither last year’s proposed preventing spending reimbursement cap, nor reversed the cut to Close to Home.

Cuomo’s budget did make one significant cut to a budget item for a smaller population of at-risk youth: Children who have been removed from their homes due to bad behavior – but not-quite criminal behavior – known as Persons In Need of Supervision, or PINS. Family courts would no longer be able to place PINS youth in detention or in foster care in most cases. Counties could also no longer pay for diversion services for PINS youth via the state’s 62 percent prevention reimbursement. New York City, for example, received $13 million serving 5,000 families with a PINS youth last year via this state funding stream.

Advocates have pushed to reopen the reimbursement of services for youth. The governor’s office told The Chronicle via e-mail that the budget proposal “opens funding within the Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program (STSJP) to design programs that meet the service needs of this population.” The program was created in 2011, and is a similar 62 percent reimbursement for prevention services for counties with two key differences. First, the reimbursement is capped for each county, unlike the prevention reimbursement counties had relied on. The annual STSJP allocation has remained flat, meaning counties will likely see substantially less funding overall for services for PINS youth, in addition to the near zeroing-out of funding for placing youth in foster homes or detention.

The governor’s office pointed to other, pre-existing funding programs that counties could use to partly fill the gap: After-school programs, criminal justice funding programs, mentoring programs and services available through Medicaid.

The State Senate and State Assembly, both now majority Democratic, are now holding hearings and preparing counter proposals before a budget gets signed in April. Advocates will be stalking them in the dark hallways of Albany’s capital in the meantime. 

There’s a huge list of priorities for Democrats in the legislature who have not controlled every branch of government in New York State in years. Yet, they face the same budget shortfall the governor faced for his proposal, and lineup of vulnerable members in moderate to conservative districts upstate.

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Michael Fitzgerald
About Michael Fitzgerald 44 Articles
Northeast Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change