The rising cost to provide human service programs is hitting county coffers, Lebanon County Commissioners learned Thursday.

In presenting the final 2021 fiscal year report for Children & Youth Services (CYS), administrator Erin Moyer told the commissioners that costs to provide services are rising due to a number of factors.

Moyer said increases in the number of cases it handles and boosted service provider labor costs are the primary culprits behind the additional costs needed to pay for these services.

“Children and Youth spent a total of $7.198,690, which was an over-expenditure of Children and Youth’s portion of the budget in the amount of $705,829,” said Moyer, “and this is due to increases in court-ordered placements, overall, but specifically we have had (placement of) a lot of large sibling groups.”

Moyer also presented amended second-, third- and fourth-quarter expenditures for the 2021 fiscal year in the following amounts: second quarter, $1.72 million; third quarter, $1.62 million; and just under $1.76 million for the fourth quarter.

Chairman Robert Phillips said the expenditures are necessary to ensure the public’s safety.

“We all know that whatever we need to do we have to do for public safety and for other purposes,” said Phillips. “The public expects us to do what you are doing. We appreciate any time we can save some money, but we also recognize the responsibility.”

Fortunately, all CYS departmental costs still were within the state-certified amount of $10.1 million, of which the county’s share is $2.2 million.

Moyer also presented fiscal year 2021-22 implementation and needs-based budgets for the coming year.

“For the 2021-22 fiscal year, which is our current year, we were approved and certified at $10,096,796, with a county share of $2,185,186,” Moyer said about the implementation budget.

Implementation budgets typically cover commitments and payments with commitments using a specific sum of money from a specific budgetary line item in order to fund a specific activity.

The needs-based budget for fiscal year 2022-23 is $11.2 million, with a county share of $2.2 million, which is an increase from the 2021-22 implementation budget, according to Moyer.

“Our providers are increasing their rates and it is in direct relation with residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, so they are trying to increase their wages to attract staff because like everyone else they are also struggling with hiring and keeping staff,” she said. “So if they don’t have staff, they can’t take our children into placement, and so it is causing a big issue with us trying to get kids into appropriate placements.”

Insurance concerns are also contributing to higher costs for the county for their service providers, added Moyer.

“They’re also increasing their rates because liability insurance has nearly doubled for these providers,” she said, “and also the state is implementing the Family First initiative as of October 1st, so there is a push to get kids out of congregate care settings and into more family-like settings.”

Congregate care providers are becoming more specialized because of Family First, and this new focus is impacting costs.

“They have congregate care settings that are becoming specialized, so they provide more evidence-based, trauma-focused services to children. And because of that, these providers are putting more money into these programs to train staff,” added Moyer.

Moyer noted that the utilization of specialized programs means the county can get IV-E funding, commonly called “Four-E” funding, which lowers the county’s portion of the bill. She said, however, that employee wages have risen dramatically for service providers to retain and/or hire new staff given the competitive nature of the employment pool, and that is driving up costs.

“We will get more Four-E funding for those programs and the kids are getting better services and support, but the issue is they are increasing their wages very, very dramatically and so, in order for us to even be in competition with other counties and them taking our children, we have to look are increasing the rates we are paying them as well,” Moyer said.

The needs-based budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year is $11.4 million, with the county’s share being nearly $2.3, an increase over the previous year, according to Moyer.

An increase in the case load that requires additional staff is the primary reason behind the increase, she added. Given the high number of cases the department is handling, Moyer requested and received permission to hire four additional employees as of July 1, 2022, including two aides, a truancy officer and an additional fiscal technician to handle Title IV-E funding requirements for the Family First initiative, among other duties.

She added that given the massive complexity of the cases that her department has that her agency is working with two agency solicitors as well.

“Again, with the COVID-19 pandemic and residual effects, truancy has become a totally different beast at this point,” said Moyer. “Truancy has inundated our agency and, again, truancy cases mixed with child abuse cases and neglect cases is taking over time that case workers need to be focused on (with) child abuse and neglect.”

The placement of certain programs into grant-based funding has provided her agency, and therefore the county, some financial relief.

“We are able to move some of our current programs into the grant portion of the budget so our grant portion of the budget has a higher state match, so we want to put as much of our programming into there as physically possible just because it’s less county share on you guys,” said Moyer.

The final funding request for CYS involved service and placement provider contracts. Service contracts for 38 providers were approved with an average increase of 4 percent with 24 of those providers not requesting an increase in fiscal year 2021-22 payments. All service provider contracts fall within the county’s budget.

A total of 24 of the county’s 57 placement providers seek no increase in the coming fiscal year, but rates did increase by an average of 10.5 percent. All placement providers still fall within the state approved rates, according to Moyer.

“As we had talked about earlier, these increases are due to increasing wages to attract more employees, increased costs for liability insurance and services needed to become more specialized in trauma informed,” Moyer said. “I will say that 10.5 percent is just the tip of the iceberg. It took a lot of negotiations this year to get contracts with a lot of our providers at a minimal increase.”

Jamie Wolgemuth, chief clerk/county administrator for Lebanon County, said these are “obviously some very big numbers that were provided today,” adding that placement costs can run a wide financial gamut.

“These placements can range from $100 a day to $400, (and) there are some outliers that run $900 a day depending on the type of placement,” Wolgemuth said. “Historically, I remember one of the most expensive that may have (been an individual who) committed arson, and no one wants that placement but it has to be made. So those add up very quickly and that’s why these numbers are so big over the course of the year.”

Two other juvenile probation placement contracts were approved, one at the same rate of $375.60 per day as last year and a second one at $325 per day, an increase of $30 from the previous fiscal year.

In other county business, the commissioners approved the municipal election ballot for the upcoming election on Nov. 2 as presented by Michael Anderson, chief clerk for Lebanon County Elections.

Read More: Here’s how to register for this year’s municipal elections

Anderson, whose last day in that position is Friday, Sept. 17, introduced his replacement, Jason Todd, a former serviceman who hails from Georgia and who was officially hired earlier in the meeting. It was announced that the county had interviewed “seven or eight individuals” to fill that position.

Todd’s first day in his new position is Monday.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...