LAS VEGAS - While Gov. Jim Gibbons has committed to protecting Nevada's child welfare budget from the 8 percent possible cuts faced by other state entities, federal revenue sources are now in doubt.
Nevada may lose its share of Medicaid funding that pays for services to severely emotionally disturbed children, said Nevada Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden. That funding is roughly $8 million. And federal resources that help pay for foster care costs are restricted by rules that block Nevada from recovering all the money it's eligible to get.
"Without federal Medicaid support, children in high-level care will be difficult to support," Willden said Monday. "We continue to see a lot of balking over who should be paying for this."
Funding concerns weighed heavily on participants in a roundtable on child welfare called by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev. The meeting was the second one Porter has convened to respond to problems within Clark County Family Services, such as the deaths of children in foster care, the lack of training and sufficient staff within the department, and underreporting of child fatalities that may have been related to abuse or neglect.
The shortcomings in the system aren't a secret, said Clark County Director of Family Services Tom Morton. But attempts to address them have been slowed by the budgeting problems at the state level.
Morton had to hold off filling new positions created by legislators to reduce caseloads in child welfare until he was sure the money would be there. The state is in the process of identifying more than $285 million in state spending that can be cut should tax revenues fail to meet projections.
It wasn't until Nov. 13 that Gibbons exempted child welfare from future cuts. With that assurance, Morton said he is proceeding to fill all of the 58 new positions approved by the state.
Morton also asked Porter to explore possible changes in rules governing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. Now, the state can't get federal matching funds for services if family members who take in children decline to obtain foster parent licensing.
Morton asked Porter to consider that the cost of supporting families is less than the cost of putting a child in foster care.
Porter said he would discuss the federal funding issues with other members of Nevada's delegation when he returns to Washington, D.C.
"All of these children belong to all of us," Porter said. "It's our responsibility to take care of them."