House Committee Examines Foster Care Failures
Missouri House members aren’t pleased with a lack of answers from the Department of Social Services in the wake of a federal report slamming the department’s lack of response when children in foster care go missing.
The report released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services’ Office of the Inspector General is based on 2019 data. It said the state does not properly report when children are missing and doesn’t do enough to keep them from going missing again, if they are found.
The House Children and Families Committee held a public hearing this week to delve into the report and seek answers from the department. The chair of the committee said, “I was shocked by the scope of the report but I was not surprised by the content.”
The study found that 978 children went from missing state care at some point during 2019. In looking closely at the handling of 59 cases of children missing from foster care, it found that in nearly half there was no evidence that the state had reported those children missing as required by law.
The committee heard testimony from the Department of Social Services Acting Director who said many of the policy issues cited in the report stemmed from a previous administration. She produced a 2016 memo from the previous director that allowed caseworkers to quit some practices and documentation, some of which she says has been resumed since 2019.
The chair of the House Children and Families Committee and other lawmakers were frustrated by what they saw as a “passing of the buck,” trying to blame that earlier administration, and a failure to follow the law and to implement programs the legislature has authorized to help the division keep foster kids safe.
She asked, “If the tools that have been given by the legislature have not been utilized and if the state and federal laws are not being followed because it’s the policy of the department, what enforcement mechanism could the legislature use to induce you to follow state and federal statute?”
The chair of the House Children and Families Committee went on to say she was troubled the department did not provide much information outside of what was in the federal report and even challenged its findings. She said the next step will be to hold a hearing focused on possible solutions.
“We’re going to continue to work and see what pressure we can put on the department to continue to follow state and federal law. The committee will continue to hold hearings. We’ll probably have one more and then we’ll have a report with recommendations and I would think that you’ll see legislation that comes out of this process,” she said.
State Continues to See Healthy Revenue Growth
Missouri continues to see its economy grow and received good news again this week when the September revenue numbers showed a healthy increase.
For September 2021 the state took in $1.1 billion in revenue, which is up from $944.5 million in September 2020. The enhanced level of revenue amounts to a 16.3 percent increase.
The latest revenue numbers show sales and use tax collection increased by 20.7 percent in September. Overall, the state has seen sales and use tax collection for the year increase by 22.9 percent. To date the state has collected $736.9 million in sales tax revenue. At the same point last year, the state had collected only $599.7 million.
The state has also seen other collections increase this year with the exception of individual income taxes. For September, income tax collections were down by 17.1 percent, and for the year they are down 18.9 percent overall. The state has currently collected $1.9 billion in income tax, while at the same time last year it had collected $2.35 billion.
The drop in income tax collection is the result of skewed numbers from last year when tax filing deadlines in April and June were moved to July 15, 2020. The late deadline put many of the income tax collections in the FY 2021 fiscal year, which inflated the overall numbers for the year.
Despite the continued healthy growth, the late filing deadlines from 2020 continue to put the state behind the revenue collections seen last year. To date the state has seen a decrease of 10.6 percent in overall revenues. At this time last year the state had collected $3.09 billion in revenue. This year so far the state has collected $2.76 billion. Despite this, the state budget director says Missouri continues to be on pace to fully fund the state operating budget.
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