Politics

More than a month after a court decision said Kentucky had to begin paying people who take care of foster children they’re related to, state officials say they still don’t know when or how it will begin making the payments.

Adria Johnson, commissioner of Kentucky Department of Community Based Services, said that the administration is searching for funding, putting together a “payment mechanism,” and reviewing state regulations.

Johnson said in the meantime, caregivers can call a hotline to find out if they are eligible for payments.

“Once that review of that case has been made and we find out whether or not it in fact does apply to that caregiver, then an agreement will be entered into with that relative or fictive caregiver. That per diem reimbursement will begin,” Johnson said.

Earlier this year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Kentucky must pay people who provide foster care to children they are related to, just as the state pays licensed foster parents.

The decision became final last month when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal of the case made by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The ruling applies to children who have been placed into the state’s custody and then into temporary custody with a relative, as well as children who have relatives who certify as foster or adoptive parents.

It doesn’t apply to relatives who take care of a child who never entered out-of-home-care.

Advocates say the ruling signals that the state should restore its Kinship Care program, which pays relatives around $300 per month for taking care of children who have been removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect.

The program was frozen to new applicants in 2013 because of budget constraints.

But Johnson said the cabinet is concerned that lifting the moratorium without new money would overburden its budget.

“There does need to be consideration given for the level of investment required to lift the moratorium and how that would continue to be sustained in subsequent years,” Johnson said.

According to the cabinet, the state had more than 11,400 children in the program before the moratorium in 2013 and now has a little over 5,100.

The total cost of benefits paid out to kinship caregivers has gone down from nearly $43 million in 2013 to an estimated $17 million over the same period.

According to the most recent Kids Count, there are about 70,000 children in Kentucky living with extended family and close friends.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.