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Governor not ready to respond to Foley audit

Governor not ready to respond to Foley audit

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Gov. Dave Heineman will take his time to respond to a critical audit of the state's child welfare reform effort.

He told reporters Monday he will take several more days to fully review Auditor Mike Foley's report and talk to Department of Health and Human Services officials about it. 

On Wednesday, Foley issued an audit report denouncing the reform effort, known as Families Matter, for increasing costs to the state by 27 percent and not being accountable for how those funds were spent.

Heineman said he meets with lead contractor KVC and other providers on a regular basis to make sure the child welfare system is moving forward. KVC and Nebraska Families Collaborative have contracts with the state to manage foster care and in-home child welfare services in Lincoln, southest Nebraska and the Omaha area.

"The challenge here is this is a very complex and very complicated system," Heineman said.

There are multiple responsibilities in child welfare, Heineman said, not only for HHS but also for parents and the judicial system.

Some testifiers Wednesday at a Lincoln hearing questioned whether reform should be halted.

Nebraska Appleseed director Rebecca Gould said reform has resulted in instability for hundreds of children and families, eroded the provider infrastructure in the state, and caused economic turmoil for community-based agencies and state and private agency employees.

"It is time for the department to acknowledge that these are not just bumps in the road and that this reform as structured is not viable, nor is it in the best interest of children and families ..." Gould said.

Heineman said Monday what the state was doing in the past didn't work, and it can't afford to return to those failures.

He acknowledged the state has work to do on righting the system, and that is why he is meeting with KVC and other providers "fairly frequently."

"It's not easy to make the cultural change that needs to occur, and so I want them to understand how important this is to what we're doing," he said.

But he also put responsibility on parents.

"We can't expect government to be the parent. And it's very unfortunate that we're involved in these situations," he said.

During Wednesday's hearing on reform, Omaha Sen. Bob Krist asked Foley if the Legislature needed to go to a zero-based budget and pull back all appropriations until the department would come to terms with spending on reform.

Omaha Sens. Heath Mello and Jeremy Nordquist have called for transitioning to performance-based budgeting for HHS, including performance benchmarks, to provide more fiscal oversight.

Mello said an executive branch agency shouldn't be able to make such wholesale changes as child welfare reform without first getting authorization from the Legislature.

"Every aspect of the (HHS) budget needs to see the light of day, and moving to a performance-based budgeting system that questions every bureaucratic assumption is the first step (toward) saving this sinking ship," Mello said. 

Nordquist said that if the governor chooses to manage one of the largest portions of the state budget as it is, the Legislature must take action to give taxpayers the transparency they deserve.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

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