By Holly Nunn
Capital News Service
The governor’s proposed 2012 budget underfunds the Department of Juvenile Services by $7.2 million, according to an analysis unveiled last week.
The analysis by the Department of Legislative services, presented to the House Appropriations Committee Friday, says that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget overestimates the amount of money the state will receive from the federal government and underestimates the amount of money needed to pay employees for overtime. The Department of Juvenile Services, which the O’Malley administration calls “undoubtedly one of the most troubled agencies,” is budgeted at more than $277 million for 2012.
Legislative Services budget analyst Rebecca Ruff told the committee that the department has been unable to claim federal funding since July for certain youth placed in out-of-home settings because court orders did not have the right language to meet new federal requirements. She also said that high turnover rates and vacant positions made extensive use of overtime necessary.
“Getting those federal dollars that the state is entitled to is an ongoing issue,” said Del. John Wood Jr., D-Charles.
The governor had not seen the budget analysis, but his spokesman, Shaun Adamec, defended O’Malley’s budget.
“The governor has consistently increased funding for the Department of Juvenile Services even in tough budget times,” Adamec said. “There are a number of priorities that we’ve cut much more aggressively than juvenile services.”
Juvenile services has been plagued with problems for years, including inequity in services to girls, inadequate facilities, uncompensated Medicaid funding and last year’s murder of a teacher at Cheltenham Youth Facility.
In September, an audit of the department found that Medicaid reimbursements weren’t properly claimed from the federal government because of missing or improperly processed forms, resulting in $3 million in lost revenue for the department.
Other findings in the audit include inappropriate overtime wages, duplicate salary payments, untimely employee background checks, untimely implementation and review of youth treatment service plans, poor record keeping and improper employee disbursement from the department’s working fund.
Some legislators suggested the department’s problems have more to do with shoddy paperwork than with the governor’s budget.
“All of these findings seem to be administrative,” said Del. Barbara Robinson, D-Baltimore. “Like the background checks. If these were in assisted living facilities, there would be citations.”
All the changes and budget shortfalls put pressure to make necessary reforms on the new acting secretary of the department, Sam Abed, who comes to Maryland with five years of experience in Virginia’s juvenile justice agency.
Abed said the department lacks administrative controls over its employees’ compliance with regulations.
“We need to have better controls and methods for finding the problems before they mushroom as they did,” Abed said.
Abed said the department is now using a computer system to track Medicaid reimbursement, and has a database for tracking contract payments. New forms have also been approved to ensure that they include the necessary language to receive federal funding for qualified youth.
The department also plans to fill 64 vacant direct-care positions, which will reduce the need to use overtime to maintain required staff to youth ratios. The budget analysis estimates this could fix as much as $2.5 million of the $7.2 million shortfall.
Others are unsure that the department is being aggressive enough in dealing with its problems.
“None of the actions to address the systemic problems seem to be at the level of urgency that is called for,” said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery. “Something more urgent is required.”