(INDIANAPOLIS) – A big budget request from the Department of Child Services has legislators in both parties uneasy, but Governor Holcomb’s sticking by it.
A 300-million-dollar increase for DCS plus an expected jump in Medicaid costs threaten to swallow up nearly all the new money in the next state budget. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) and Senate Democrats’ top budget negotiator, Portage Senator Karen Tallian, have both speculated out loud whether the DCS request can be dialed back.
Holcomb says he understands legislators’ concerns and will be talking with them. But he notes the state dipped into its surplus to give DCS workers a raise this year. That money and staffing increases need to be reflected in the budget to become permanent.
The raises were recommended by an outside review of the agency as a way to reduce turnover. Holcomb said when the Child Welfare Group issued its findings that he’d move to implement all of them. But a legislative study committee has rejected two recommendations to bring swollen caseloads down by narrowing the criteria which require DCS to open an abuse or neglect investigation. Indiana’s standard for requiring an investigation is more wide-ranging than most states. Holcomb’s going along with legislators — he says the state doesn’t want to overlook cases which could have been defused by early intervention.
And Holcomb says some changes, including Indiana’s anti-opioid efforts, are aimed at preventing abusive situations from developing in the first place. He says making Indiana homes healthier will in itself bring down costs — but the steps to make that happen cost money up front.
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