DHS director suggests foster payments for relatives

Published 5:18 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2006

If a child goes into foster care because her parents are addicted to drugs, the state of Mississippi makes monthly payments to the foster family.

If the same child goes to live with grandparents, the state does not provide financial assistance.

State Department of Human Services Director Don Taylor told lawmakers Tuesday that Mississippi should consider making “kinship” payments for foster care. He said only a handful of states don’t already provide the money.

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Though he didn’t provide numbers, Taylor said he has heard anecdotally about grandparents taking in children because the parents are hooked on methamphetamine.

“What we’re asking for is the ability to give these people some help,” Taylor told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee as he presented his agency’s spending requests for the coming year.

Monthly foster-care payments vary according to a child’s age and whether the child has special needs. For example, the state now pays foster parents $325 a month for a child from birth to age 3 and $390 a month for one 16 to 21 years old.

In addition to seeking funds to start kinship payments, DHS wants enough money to increase other foster care payments by 45 percent.

Like many other state agencies, DHS is seeking more money for the budget year that starts next July 1.

DHS is getting $775.3 million from the state for the current budget year and is seeking $812.9 million for the coming year. That’s a $37.6 million increase, or almost 5 percent.

The 14-member Legislative Budget Committee is holding eight days of public hearings as the first step in a lengthy process of deciding how to spend taxpayers’ money. Wednesday is the seventh day of the hearings.

Gov. Haley Barbour will make his own budget recommendations in November, and the Budget Committee will release its plan before the legislative session starts in January. All 122 members of the House and 52 members of the Senate will get to vote on a final budget plan by early April.

Taylor said DHS has lost 1,229 positions, or 30 percent of its work force, over the past four years. Yet, he said the agency is expected to do the same amount of work, or more.

“It’s getting really difficult to make chicken salad out of chicken squat,” Taylor told the budget writers.