Adoption bonuses doled out, providing states with additional revenue maximization opportunities

Arkansas to receive $1.3 million for increasing adoptions,” blares the headline in the Arkansas News. “Indiana Awarded Funding to Boost Adoption,” Inside Indiana Business reports, explaining that the state will receive more than $1.3 million to promote adopting children from foster care. “W.Va. gets $1M in adoption incentives,” explains the Greenwich Time.

State gets $531k from HHS,” the Topeka Capitol-Journal reports from Kansas. “HHS Awards $1 Million To Louisiana For Increasing Adoptions,” reports KATC. “Feds award Utah for increasing foster care adoptions,” notes the Salt Lake Tribune. “State awarded $276,000 for increasing adoptions,” the Journal-Sentinel reports on Wisconsin’s revenue enhancing accomplishment.

And $5,718,271 in adoption bounty goes out to Florida. The state is itself no stranger to federal revenue maximization. Its failings have been more than adequately documented by Richard Wexler at the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

The press reports uncritically on these adoption subsidies as if to suggest that their respective states are doing something right, when in fact they are doing something wrong.

Allow me to dust off an old quote from Joseph R. Pisani, speaking on behalf of the National Conference of State Legislators, who, regarding the perverse federal incentives driving child removals and placements, explained to a Congressional Committee as long ago as 1979 that: “You are paying us to do the wrong thing, and providing us with federal disincentives to do the right thing.”

States and territories receiving the adoption-related bounties, issued by HHS yesterday, include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.

A SUIT BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD STILL SMELL AS SWEET

There is the list of the states that are doing a “good” job in child welfare. The list of the worse ones – those that didn’t receive any bounty at all – are familiar to reform advocates. Let’s start with our Nation’s Capitol, the District of Columbia, home to LaShawn A. v. Fenty, also known as LaShawn A v. Williams, LaShawn A. v. Barry, and LaShawn v. Dixon, the landmark suit filed by Children’s Rights in 1989. The National Center for Youth Law explains that as of April 2010, the court ruled on a plaintiffs’ motion holding Washington D.C. and its mayor in contempt for failure to comply with court orders requiring child welfare reform. The court also denied the defendants’ motion seeking an end to court oversight. No adoption subsidy whatsoever for DC. And so very few meaningful changes over the course of such lengthy and costly litigation.

Then there is New Jersey, whose agency Marcia Robinson Lowry of Children’s Rights has repeatedly branded as “dysfunctional.” In May of last year, Commissioner Kimberly S. Ricketts testified before the Assembly Budget Committee, boasting of her agency’s efforts at federal revenue maximization, saying:

Thanks to the efforts of our newly formed “Revenue Maximization Team,” we have implemented several improvements to DCF’s revenue development, financial reporting and Title IV-E operations in order to maximize federal claiming. This team also led the effort to achieve substantial compliance with the federal foster care review for the first time ever.

DCF also created an impact team of Title IV-E reviewers to work on determinations for a record number of adoptions in the last few years. In five months, the team reviewed 1,811 adoption cases and determined 1,001 eligible for federal reimbursement. This operational efficiency will generate approximately $4.5 million additional federal revenue for NJ annually.

Apparently, her optimism in her revenue maximization team effort was somewhat misplaced. The grand total for New Jersey this year? $0.00. That’s right – not one thin dime in adoption subsidy. Perhaps the Jersey team has found some more lucrative ways to maximize federal revenue than adopting out the children of the poor?

Almost a year to the day later, Robert Doar, Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration, Department of Social Services, similarly bragged before his legislature:

I believe we do a very good job of making sure we seek state and federal reimbursement for these services in a manner that both meets program rules but also maximizes revenues. However, we can always do better and continually work to improve so I challenged our Finance staff to turn over every proverbial rock they could find and they did. For example, although staff intensive we now are reviewing each of the thousands of one-shot grants issued to make sure they are appropriately categorized so that we are not inadvertently using city tax levy when we could be claiming state or federal dollars. We expect, based on our analysis, that this intensive effort will yield $1.69 million in 2011 and in the out-years.

Doar’s rock-turning revenue maximization strategies notwithstanding, New York state on the whole pulled down absolutely zero in adoption subsidies.

Then there is Massachusetts. Oh – don’t even get me started on that particular state. I’ll turn instead to Washington state – home of the Washington Risk Assessment Matrix, a consensus-based assessment instrument of questionable validity first put into the field by the agency in 1986; the Wenatchee ritual abuse trials that had the Reader’s Digest weighing in on the issue of ritual abuse cases; and, to be sure, the Keffeler decision – which legitimized the unconscionable practice of soaking foster kids’ SSI to enrich public coffers. No bounty to be had for Washington State either. They have so many other ways of making money off of the anguish of protected children there.

Not to be outdone, right next door is Oregon, which pulled in a paltry $637,726 in adoption bonuses. Apparently that state is more busily engaged in making headlines by filing an international lawsuit to collect collect child support from Lisa Kirkman, whose child the state had “rescued” into care two years prior. The state is seeking a cool $48,000 to “reimburse” itself for foster care costs. The child savers, as Wexler calls them, aren’t even pretending to be saving children anymore. Quite to the contrary, they have become far more open and brazen about their revenue maximization efforts over the course of the recent years.

North Dakota, Iowa, Ohio, and Tennessee – so capably being reformed by yet another Children’s Right’s lawsuit, Vermont, Montana, Colorado and California took in no bonuses. Would that I could find room to applaud them for that in light of their other numerous and well documented deficiencies.

No, the size of – nor even the whether or not of – any particular states’ adoption subsidy is not, in and of itself, a bellwether by which to gauge the operations of its system, whether it be judged in terms of its humanitarian or its fiscal efficiencies.

That the states and the territories are and have been maximizing federal revenue at the expense of children and their families over the course of some decades is all of the indictment that is needed. Just how they accomplish this feat with maximum efficiency doesn’t really matter.

That they manage to accomplish it at all is the major concern.

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