BOISE – Conservative North Idaho Sen. Steve Vick has only been on the Legislature’s joint committee for a week, but on Monday he said he saw a budget request that he views as more justified than others: a slight increase to Idaho’s low-ranking foster care reimbursements.
Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he once looked into becoming a foster parent himself.
He’s one of 10 first-time members on the Idaho Legislature’s 20-member budget-setting committee this year, a group that includes several who, like Vick, are suspicious of most increases in government spending.
The panel on Monday began a week of budget hearings on state Health and Welfare programs, starting with child welfare. Idaho’s child welfare system was ranked No. 1 in the nation by the Foundation for Government Accountability last summer, based on criteria including quick response to abuse allegations and maintaining stable foster care placements. Yet the state’s spending is among the nation’s lowest on the program, with foster care reimbursements ranking among the worst.
Rob Luce, administrator of Idaho’s child welfare division, said last year lawmakers granted half the department’s request for a $1 million boost in reimbursements, the first in about seven years. Now he’s asking for the other half.
That boost moved Idaho up from 49th to 48th in the nation for its rates for the youngest children, and 50th to 47th for those ages 6 to 12, but it dropped from 43rd to 45th in the nation for kids age 13 or older.
If the requested increase is granted, Idaho’s reimbursements still would rank among the lowest; they’d only rise by about a dollar a day. But Luce said last year’s tiny boost was a morale-booster to the state’s foster parents. “The symbolism of it is huge,” he said.
Idaho has 1,246 licensed foster parents, and in 2012, 2,526 children were in foster care at some point during the year.
Foster families in Idaho are paid $9.90 a day to care for children up to 5 years old; $11.35 a day for children ages 6 to 12 and $14.90 a day for those 13 or older. The proposed increase would raise those rates to $10.82, $12.04 and $16.02, respectively.
By comparison, foster parents in Washington are paid $13.95 a day for children up to 5 years old; $16.48 for children 6 to 12 years old and $18.91 for youngsters 13 or older. Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada all have higher rates than Washington. Both Idaho’s and Washington’s rates are below the national average.