Lorain County Children Services has taken the bold and cynical step of asking adoption parents to voluntarily surrender their right to negotiate adoption assistance agreements. Instead, they are asked to accept “corresponding reductions” in their adoption assistance payments if the state reduces it’s level of financial participation in the Title IV-E adoption assistance program. In essence, adoptive parents are being asked to accept possible reductions in their children’s adoption assistance payments, no matter what changes in their child’s needs and family circumstances may occur. In doing so, they would give up negotiation rights guaranteed by federal and state law.
Lorain County recently sent adoptive parents of special needs children receiving Title IV-E adoption assistance payments a letter and an amended JFS 01453 Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Agreement form. The letter points to three new provisions on the form which parents are asked to sign. The three provisions do not appear in federal or state law, nor were they approved by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) making the altered form essentially illegal. NOTE: E-Mail me for a copy of the letter and the altered form.
By signing the made up form, the parents would agree to the following:
a. The county is not responsible for any financial participation (funding) above its “current match dollar amount.”
b. The parents agree that if the state reduces its financial participation in the Title IV-E adoption assistance program, that they (the parents) will accept a corresponding “proportional reduction” in their adoption assistance payments.
c. The parents accept that the county is in no way responsible for the federal or state portion of Title IV-E adoption assistance payments.
Parents that decline to sign are told to request a state administrative hearing, which constitutes a clear abuse of power on the part of Lorain County, particularly in the wake of ODJFS Director Lumpkin’s letter forbidding counties to make automatic deductions in existing adoption. assistance agreements. Parents are not obliged in any way to sign an amended adoption assistance agreement, especially one with provisions that are not sanctioned by law. Furthermore, there are no grounds for a state administrative appeal, because there is no explicit denial of benefits. If you inadvertently signed such a document, please contact me or another advocate. It is doubtful that such an unsanctioned document can be enforced.
The altered provisions in the form are designed to get around the problem that an adoption assistance agreement may not be automatically amended without the consent of the parents. Not only are parents being asked to give up the basic right to negotiate adoption assistance agreements, but the added language is far from clear. Even if a parents were deceived into signing such a document, no one would know what they were signing. Lorain County’s intentions are somewhat obvious, but the language doesn’t get them there. Neither, of course, does the employment of an unapproved form and the attempt to violate adoptive families’ due process rights.
What is a “current dollar match amount?” Adoption assistance agreements can be negotiated up the level of support he or she would receive were they in a foster home suitable to their level of care. There is no such thing as a “current dollar match amount.”
The statement that a county is not responsible for the federal or state portion of IV-E adoption assistance payments is a truism. Federal and state financial participation rates are set by law. The county portion is part of the negotiation process.
What is a “corresponding reduction” of an adoption assistance payment? Does it include the federal share which is 68.34% of the overall cost.
The sample letter below is designed to help parents respond to dubiously “ethical” proposals such as the one proffered by Lorain County. Feel free to use any portion of the sample you wish. Please contact me if you receive any other suspicious correspondence. If it smells bad, it probably is bad. We are documenting actions that are out of compliance with federal law.
Recommended Letter Rejecting the County’s Proposal
I recently received a letter and an amended JFS 01453 Title IV-E adoption assistance agreements form. The letter asks parents to sign statements agreeing that:
The county is not responsible for any financial participation (funding) above its “current match dollar amount.”
The parents agree that if the state reduces its financial participation in the Title IV-E adoption assistance program, that they (the parents) will accept a corresponding “proportional reduction in their adoption assistance payments.
The parents accept that the county is in no way responsible for the federal or state portion of Title IV-E adoption assistance payments.
I am not willing to sign the amended adoption assistance agreement form for a number of reasons, including the following:
1. Lorain County has illegally altered a state Title IV-E adoption assistance agreement form. There are no provisions in either federal or state law which require or request adoptive parents to pledge that any reductions in state financial participation in the federal adoption assistance program absolve the county agency from any financial responsibilities.
The Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services recently sent a letter to Lorain County and all Ohio agencies affirming the federal policy that county agencies could not make unilateral, automatic reductions in existing Title IV-E adoption assistance payments without the parents consent. I suppose the strategy here is to get around requirements to negotiate initial and amended adoption assistance agreements by getting the parents consent for the county to make automatic reductions in the future no matter what the needs of the child and circumstances of the family.
2. Signing this agreement could be used as a ploy to reduce our current adoption assistance payments.
3. For good reason, federal and state law require that requests for additional adoption assistance and modifications of existing Title IV-E adoption assistance agreements be negotiated based upon the needs of the child and circumstances of the family. In-as-much as no one knows what the future holds, it is clearly contrary to our children’s welfare to authorize an automatic reduction in their adoption assistance payments if the state reduces its financial participation in Title IV-E adoption assistance.
4. As economic conditions worsen, the federal financial participation rate in Title IV-E adoption assistance increases. The federal financial participation rate in IV-E adoption assistance has risen for 60% to 68.34% of the cost of monthly adoption assistance payments. The state and counties’ participation rates in providing non federal matching funds has fallen from 40% to 31.66% of the cost. The cost to the county for the recent reduction in the state’s financial participation rate from monthly adoption assistance payments of up to $300 to payments of up to $240 is approximately $20 per month. The county’s non federal share for every dollar over $240 per month is actually lower than it was a year ago.
5. The provisions in the altered form are not at all clear. What does the agency’s “current dollar match amount” mean? There is no set amount. Adoption assistance payments are negotiated. The county’s matching participation rate, as noted above, is 31.66% for each dollar over $240 per month up to the child’s appropriate foster home rate. What is a corresponding reduction in adoption assistance if the state lowers it’s financial participation rate? As noted above, the state’s reduction in participation from a maximum of $300 per month to a maximum of $240 per month, cost counties about $20 per month. The remainder is absorbed by federal dollars. Is a “corresponding reduction” $20 or $60?
Finally, the statement that the county is in no way responsible for the federal or state portion of Title IV-E adoption assistance payments makes no sense unless it is taken as a truism. The federal portion is determined by the same formula as Medicaid. The state portion is determined by state law. The county’s actual payment is determined by negotiation.
6. A county cannot arbitrarily opt out the responsibility to negotiate adoption assistance agreements. Federal and state laws pertaining to the negotiation of adoption assistance agreements remain the same.
7. The form represents a cynical attempt to induce parents to surrender their right to negotiate future adoption assistance agreements, a right guaranteed by federal law.
8. Questions involving the state’s and county’s responsibilities for providing the non-federal matching funds for Title IV-E adoption assistance are matters that must be resolved by state and county governments and state law. It does special needs children a great disservice to ask their parents to solve the county’s financial problems. The county children services agencies are represented by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, (PCSAO), an organization which traditionally has a great deal of influence with ODJFS. You should take the matter up with them.
9. We are under no obligation to sign this amended and illegal adoption assistance form. Since we do not consent to reductions in our children’s adoption assistance payments. Lorain County is attempting to induce us to sign an illegally altered adoption assistance agreement. State administrative hearings are based on a denial of benefits. There are no grounds for a hearing. If Lorain County attempts to reduce our children’s adoption assistance automatically, without our consent in defiance of federal law, state law and the letter by ODJFS’ Director Lumpkin, explicitly forbidding such action, we will appeal, you will lose and we will expose this cynical attempt to save money at the expense of special needs children.