Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Federal Policy Interpretation: State May Not Reduce or Suspend Adoption Assistance if Parents Fail to Complete and Return Annual Eligibility Form

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) reports a new federal interpretation published on December 12, 2007 in response to the question:

Can a State suspend or reduce a title IV-E adoption assistance subsidy if the adoptive parents fail to renew or recertify the adoption assistance agreement?

The answer, which will be posted soon in Section 8.2B.9 of the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual, is “no.” The policy issuance acknowledged that adoption parents were responsible for keeping agencies informed about “material changes” that might affect the amount of adoption assistance, but

a State cannot reduce or suspend adoption assistance if the adoptive parents fail to reply to the State’s request for information, renewal or recertification of the agreement. Once an eligible child is receiving title IV-E adoption assistance pursuant to an agreement, adoption assistance continues until either the adoptive parents concur to a change or one of the statutory conditions are met for termination of the assistance (section 473(a)(4) of the Social Security Act and Child Welfare Policy Manual Section 8.2B.9 Q/A #2). Therefore, suspensions or reductions in a title IV-E adoption assistance payment are not permitted without the concurrence of the adoptive parents under section 473(a)(3) of the Act .

The federal policy issuance affects Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) rule 5101:2-49-10, Paragraph A, which provides that

The public children services agency (PCSA) responsible for the adoption assistance (AA) agreement shall provide the adoptive parent(s) with the JFS 01451B "Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Continuing Eligibility Determination" (10/2006) to be completed annually or whenever there is a significant change in the family situation. Within fourteen working days of receipt of the JFS 01451B the adoptive parent(s) shall complete and return the JFS 01451B to the PCSA.

The policy interpretation makes it clear the agency may not suspend or reduce the child’s adoption assistance if the adoptive parents fail to complete and return the annual continuing eligibility form within fourteen days or if they ignore it altogether. Parents would only be obliged to respond if they experienced significant changes in their circumstances that might suggest a reduction in the amount of adoption assistance.

Given that the cost of raising children, especially special needs children, tends to increase over time. Instances in which the child’s needs or family circumstances improve to such an extent that a reduction in adoption is warranted are rare. On the other hand, in a much more likely scenario, adoptive parents may request a modification to an existing adoption assistance agreement for the purpose of increasing the monthly payment at any time.