Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cuyahoga County Announces a Decrease in County Funding for Adoption Assistance in Probable Violation of Federal and State Law

A recent communication by the Cuyahoga County Department of Job and Family Services may violate federal and state adoption assistance laws and has significant implications for adoptive families across the state. On November 27, 2007, the Cuyahoga County Department of Job and Family Services, sent a letter to all adoptive families with existing Title IV-E adoption assistance agreements. The “Important Notice to Adoptive Assistance Payments” informed recipients that amount of support provided by the county was going to decrease. The county’s decision was prompted by the knowledge that the state was increasing its level of financial participation as of January 2008.

As we noted in December 30, 2007 Blog, State Increases Non-Federal Financial Participation in Federal Title IV-E Adoption Assistance and State Adoption Maintenance Subsidy Programs, ODJFS will provide the non federal portion (about 40%) of federal Title IV-E adoption assistance payments up to a maximum $300 per month. Previously the state’s financial participation was limited to payments of $250 per month. This means that for every IV-E adoption assistance payment of $300 per month, federal financial participation will be approximately $180 and state financial participation about $120. As before, public county children services agencies are responsible for the non-federal portions of any amount of assistance over $300 per month.

The increase in state financial participation according to ODJFS Family, Children and Adult Services Procedure Letter No. 129 of December 18, 2007 applies to all initial Title IV-E adoption assistance agreements completed after January 1, 2008. In addition,

Effective with the January 2008 subsidy payments, any adoption subsidy agreement greater than $300 per month, the state's participation will automatically be increased up to the maximum of $300. This increase does not change the public children services agency's (PCSA) responsibility of providing the county match for the AA payment in excess of $300 per month.

On the other hand, “for any adoption subsidy agreement equal to or less than $250 per month, the state's participation will not be automatically increased. In order for an increase to be issued, a revised adoption subsidy agreement must be entered into by the PCSA and adoptive parent(s).”

Does the action taken by ODJFS permit county agencies to engage in unilateral cuts in county support without negotiating an amendment to the individual child’s adoption assistance agreement as long as the total amount of adoption assistance is not reduced? This is Cuyahoga County’s strategy for cost shifting and if acceptable can only encourage other county agencies to follow suit.

Clearly, ODJFS as the authorized Title IV-E agency may make across the board increases in adoption assistance. County agencies, however, may not make unilateral changes in adoption assistance. Ohio Administrative Code rule 5101:2-49-12(D) in reflecting federal law provides that:

A PCSA shall not modify the amount of the AA payment without prior notification
and agreement by the adoptive parent(s) unless the adoptive parent(s) does not
comply with the requirements to determine continuing eligibility requirements
pursuant to rule 5101:2-49-10 of the Administrative Code. In all other cases the
PCSA shall not modify the amount of the AA payment without prior notification
and agreement by the adoptive parent

By reducing the county’s share of funding, Cuyahoga County is clearly in violation of the law. The county’s unilateral reduction in support prevents individual special needs adopted children from receiving an increase in their monthly adoption assistance benefit. The state’s increase in financial participation is its first since 1986. Obviously, it was intended to increase levels of support for adoption assistance. Given that Cuyahoga’s cuts in adoption assistance result in a net loss to adoptive children by essentially wiping out the state increase, the agency’s action is illegal.

Neither Cuyahoga, nor any other Ohio PCSA may reduce adoption assistance without negotiating with individual adoptive families and securing an agreement to modify the individual child’s adoption assistance agreement. Families affected by Cuyahoga’s actions or those of other agencies should contact the ODJFS. I would suggest contact Rhonda Abban by e-mail at ABBANR@odjfs.state.oh.us, Sandra Holt, Deputy Director for Family, Children and Adult Services through her administrative assistant Julia Bourdreau at bourdj@odjfs.state.oh.us and Director Helen Jones-Kelley through Laquita Kelly at KELLYL@odjfs.state.oh.us.