That’s Value for Money – $2.3 Million Spent on Empty Beds

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Human Services released the final Shelter Care usage report for FY 2009. This report showed that the state spent over $2.3 million on unused beds during the fiscal year.

In Fiscal Year 2009, the state paid for an average of 256 shelter beds each day. The actual usage for the year averaged just 187 beds daily. For the month of June, several facilities’ usage was actually less than half of its bed allocation.

Many Iowans would assume that if a shelter bed was not used, the state would not pay for it. But that is not the case. Shelter Care providers are guaranteed payment for a certain number of beds each day, whether they are used or not. This agreement was entered into in 2005.

Since then, the Department of Human Services has been surprisingly effective in reducing the need for Shelter Care services by focusing on in-home services and moving kids quickly into foster care placements. Since 2005, the usage of Shelter Care has dropped dramatically. But, the funding for it has increased.

In 2008, the Legislature tried to act on the growing amount of child welfare resources being spent on unused services. The Health and Human Services Appropriations bill in 2008 contained language directing the shelters and DHS to use $1 million of the Shelter Care appropriation for alternative services. At the end of Fiscal Year 2009, only $355,000 had gone for shelter care alternatives.

While a few Shelter Care providers have stepped up to the plate and been willing to change, like Children’s Square in Council Bluffs, too many remain steadfast that they must maintain the status quo.

With the significant amount of taxpayer dollars being spent on empty beds, most Iowans would expect the Legislature to reduce the states funding for Shelter Care. But that is not the case. While many other programs in the Health and Human Services budget took an 11 percent cut, Shelter Care funding was held harmless. And in the last day of the session, the Governor’s office required that an additional $500,000 be provided for shelter care funding in FY 2010.

With critical staff positions within the Department of Human Services going unfilled and programs being reduced, Iowans would expect their elected leaders to being responsible stewards of their tax dollars. When it comes to Shelter Care funding, it is not the case.