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A callous, misguided cut

Changing the reimbursement rate for parents who adopt severely disabled children is flawed on all levels.

July 16, 2007

AIDING THOSE who adopt the state's neediest children should be a no-brainer. But a proposal slipped into the state's revised budget could cut financial assistance to adoptive parents of severely disabled children. It should be reconsidered.

Currently, parents who adopt developmentally disabled children from foster care receive a monthly payment for day-to-day care and board for the child, ranging from $916 to $5,159 according to the severity of disability. The governor's amended budget, which the Legislature will consider this week, would flatten this rate scheme, giving adoptive parents a standard $2,006 monthly payment (though children who have already been adopted and are already receiving more than $2,006 would continue to receive the higher rate). Children cared for by institutions -- which is where the most severely disabled often live if they aren't adopted -- would still receive higher rates.

Of course, money isn't the reason parents adopt. And for children who require around-the-clock care for medical conditions such as seizures or routine needs such as bathing, even the highest rate may not cover all expenses, particularly if a parent stops working full time. Still, the loss of aid money could make families think twice about adopting children with the most severe disabilities.

It's unfortunate that the state is seeking a relatively minor financial savings at the expense of its neediest children. But what makes the proposal reprehensible is that those savings may not materialize at all. Although they're still crunching the numbers, backers of the proposal assume that all developmentally disabled kids adopted would, without the proposal, receive the highest care rate of $5,159. That's highly unlikely considering that right now only 13% of children receive more than $2,006 a month. A savings assumed to be in the thousands of dollars per month could be a matter of a few dollars or -- considering that many kids may be assigned to lower rates in the future -- could ultimately cost the state.

Even if the program did save money, and even if it does streamline the complex rate-setting process -- which involves two state agencies along with regional contractors, and has led to lawsuits in the past -- it does so without adequate justification or exploration of the effect on adoptive families. The administration should be applauded for its willingness to consider creating an exception of up to $1,000 a month in additional aid on a case-by-case basis, but even that could fail to cover a child's needs. The flat-rate scheme would make it harder for the generous Californians who seek to bring severely disabled children into their homes. Without better cost estimates, and a better sense of how the new rate structure would help or hurt adoptive families, the proposal shouldn't pass.

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