A Hurricane of Issues Already Brewing

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Florida legislators convened for the first time before the early start of the 2018 session in January. This committee week was originally scheduled for September 12, but was postponed due to Hurricane Irma. The delay resulted in an action-packed week filled with discussions about fallout from the massive storm including its impact on budget and tragic nursing home deaths, the opioid crisis, school privatization, the abuse of children in the juvenile justice system and children’s health insurance.

Human Trafficking Continues to be a Topic for Policy Makers

SB 96 by Senator Stuebe (R-Sarasota) unanimously passed the Children, Families & Elder Affairs Committee. Also filed last session, the bill requires adding the dangers and signs of human trafficking to the curricula of health education courses as part of Florida’s Comprehensive Health Education program for middle and high schoolers. This is especially important as Florida ranks third in the country for reports of trafficking.

Streamline of Kidcare Proposed While the Program’s Future is in Question

SB 108 by Senator Campbell (D-North Miami Beach) unanimously passed the Children, Families & Elder Affairs Committee. The bill will create the Kidcare Operational Efficiency and Health Care Improvement Workgroup, tasked with streamlining the program, making it easier and more efficient for families to navigate. Portions of Kidcare are overseen by four different state agencies: Department of Children and Families, Department of Health, The Florida Healthy Kids Corporation and the Agency for Healthcare Administration.

In Washington D.C. the federal Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which funds Florida’s Kidcare, has yet to be reauthorized as it was caught in the larger Congressional dispute over the Affordable Care Act. The lack of federal funds would be felt by more than 342,000 Florida children. This is not good news for Florida, which already ranks 40th in the country for children who are uninsured.

Response Mixed to Juvenile Justice Update

While understanding aspects of its need, but believing intensive services and not solely confinement should figure more into the equation, The Children’s Campaign has serious questions about the overall direction of the Prolific Juvenile Offender bill introduced and passed in the waning weeks of the most recent legislative session. Its implementation has already increased the number of children in detention.

In her presentation to the House Judiciary Committee, Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly noted that one factor behind the bill’s passage was that 40% of children awaiting placement in a non-secure commitment program who were returned temporarily to the community had reoffended.

The legislation, however, allows for 100% of those children to be detained, raising the obvious concern of why the 60% majority who didn’t reoffend are being further saddled with a longer detention stay and why those intensive services already mentioned aren’t being planned, funded and implemented.

As of October 2, 289 juveniles had met the definition of prolific juvenile offender. Daly mentioned that the Department will propose a “tweak” because the Department and local law enforcement do not have opportunities for action when a young person violates the terms of their detention.

Not discussed by the House committee are reports being heard by The Children’s Campaign that the rising population in detention centers is placing those facilities under increased stress. In some facilities, according to these reports, staff shortages exist, resulting in detention center personnel working extended and extra shifts.

This comes at a time when serious questions exist about the frequency of abuse of children in those same secure confines, which hit the news with the intensity of a tsunami with the Miami Herald “Fight Club” expose. The DJJ filed a fiery response, implying the report lacked balance, and said it blatantly omitted the progress being made.

In front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, Daly was peppered with questions.  The dots were not connected, however, between the two chambers regarding the increased numbers in secure confinement and the risk factors associated with it.

Senate Committee Chair Brandes (R- St. Petersburg) requested Daly to return in two weeks for the committee to take a “deeper dive”.

Budget Process Begins with LBR Reveals and Reduction Exercise

Each year state agencies, at the direction of the Governor, submit their Legislative Budget Requests (LBRs), which not only cover the ongoing operations of executive branch agencies and areas subject to reduced appropriations, but also spotlight new priorities. This year, as in the past, the savvy budget directors “offer up” programs for reduction that would be difficult to let go in terms of public support and operational need.

The Children’s Campaign believes it is important to analyze these proposed investments and possible cuts with an eye to Florida’s mostly low rankings for indicators of child well-being. Compared to other states in the country, Florida ranks:

  • 5th highest in the percentage of juveniles in residential placement for technical violations of parole as their most serious offense
  • Third from the bottom in quality for voluntary pre-kindergarten, and 43rd in total state spending
  • 44th for overall children’s health
  • 29th in infant mortality
  • 35th for low birth-weight babies
  • 24th for children with one or more emotional, behavioral or developmental conditions

Budget proposal highlights:

Department of Juvenile Justice

  • New Funding Priorities:
    • Total funding: $42.7 million
      • Juvenile probation officers: $4.1 million
      • Juvenile detention officers: $3.8 million
      • Increase residential commitment beds (140 beds): $12.9 million
      • Prevention programs: $9.1 million
    • Proposed Cuts:
      • $13.7 million to close seven detention facilities
      • $12.8 million to reduce non-secure residential beds
      • $10 million to reduce community supervision services

Office of Early Learning

  • New Funding Priorities:
    • VPK Base Student Allocation (BSA): $11.6 million
      • School year BSA increase from $2,437 to $2,487
      • Summer BSA increase from $2,080 to $2,123
    • School Readiness: $7 million
      • Based on anticipated federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) award
    • Restore nonrecurring funding to programs including HIPPY and TEACH
  • Proposed Cuts:
    • School Readiness Program, the program that provides child care and early learning to children of the working poor: -$31,089,099 in GR funds, which would result in 5,445 fewer children served
      • The program already had a waitlist that averaged 33,285 children in 2016-2017
    • VPK: -$22,150,284
      • Base Student Allocation (BSA): 6.4% reduction
        • School year BSA reduction from $2,437 to $2,281
        • Summer Program BSA from $2,080 to $1,947
      • Florida currently ranks 43rd lowest in the country for VPK spending

Department of Health

  • New Funding Priorities:
    • Early Steps Program: $1,357,866 NR funds to implement a statewide system for the management, reporting and trending of data
    • Children’s Medical Services (CMS): $510,934 for the maintenance, repair and renovation of state-owned CMS facilities
  • Proposed Cuts:
    • CMS Specialty Contracts: -$6,692,590
    • Healthy Start Coalition: -$19,975,176
      • Approximately 116,000 women and infants received about $3.5 million in services in FY 2016-17

Agency for Persons with Disabilities:

  • New Funding Priorities:
    • Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waiver: $21.9 million to add an additional 900 individuals in the top two waiver list waiting categories, “crisis” and “foster care”
  • Proposed Cuts:
    • HCBS: -$51.8 million in GR

Agency for Health Care Administration:

  • New Funding Priorities:
    • Children’s Medical Services Network: $66.2 million for The Specialty Plan Deficit
  • Proposed Cuts:
    • Medicaid Medically Needy Program to Children and Pregnant Women: -$206 million in GR and $236 million reduction in total state dollars
      • 26,954 individuals would no longer be eligible

Department of Children and Families

  • The department did prepare a slide show on priorities and budget cuts to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, but was unable to present due to time constraints. The Children’s Campaign will provide more information when they testify before the committee (two weeks) in the next Legislative Connection.

 

If you like reading our publications, we need your help to keep them coming. For 25 years now, The Children’s Campaign has accepted NO government funding, and therefore donations from readers like you are necessary in order to retain our independent voice and continue championing major reforms for kids. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!

This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Sabrina Abboud, Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey.

                                

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A Hurricane of Issues Already Brewing