By ALEXANDER SMITH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Delays in paying for programs that help troubled youth are prompting an overhaul of how the state reimburses county courts for the services.
The Child Care Fund reimburses half of county court expenses for programs that support abused, neglected and delinquent youth.
A recent state audit disclosed slow payments but also said some of them may be ineligible for reimbursement — even though counties’ budgets had previous approval.
“If the state can’t uphold a budget it approved, kids and courts suffer,” said Eric Stevens, administrator of the Muskegon County Circuit Court.
“Forget about creativity. Forget about trying to do what’s best for kids. Forget about trying to implement new programs, because as a court administrator, I take a risk by doing that,” Stevens said.
Counties are asking for a revision of the Child Care Fund handbook to smooth out the approval process.
“It came to our attention back in July that the state was behind in their payments,” said Elizabeth Gorz, government affairs associate for the Michigan Association of Counties. “Over the last few months, we’ve worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to try and speed those payments up to the counties.”
Progress has been made, she said.
As of Oct. 7, 93 accounts were up to date, 22 accounts were one to two months behind and 10 accounts were three or more months behind, said Bob Wheaton, communications manager of Health and Human Services.
That’s up from 30, 60 and 35 in September, respectively.
A key question is whether expenses reimbursed under earlier guidelines will continue to be eligible.
“I know that for the upcoming program year, there is question about what was once allowable now being disallowed,” said Jody Lundquist, finance manager for Grand Traverse County. “The changes they’ve made now as a result of that audit would prohibit a county’s ability to charge the full cost of operating that program.”
That includes costs such as equipment, property and services needed to keep the programs going. Even if the expenses are eligible, the state can reimburse only up to $500 each year for those costs.
To be eligible for any state reimbursement, county courts must submit an annual budget to be approved by the state. After approval, the counties send in a ledger of expenses each month. The state reviews and reimburses eligible expenses. It can also refuse payment for items deemed ineligible by the current handbook.
Stevens said the state should not refuse reimbursement for parts of a budget if the whole budget has already been approved.
“If I submit a budget, put the resources in upfront to reviewing all the programming then,” Stevens said. “If all the programming meets that eligibility requirement, then I can go forward and I can spend that money.”
If the state can’t pay on time, counties still have to cover the cost.
“The counties have to make the spending, they have to provide the services,” said Derek Melot, director of communications and marketing for the Association of Counties. “The state has to come in on its side and make the reimbursements, so that’s the heart of the discussion right now.”
The associaiton is one of the groups involved with rewriting the Child Care Fund Handbook, Gorz said. Projected dates for the new handbook are December for a draft and enactment by October 2018.
By ALEXANDER SMITH