House Speaker Jeremy Gillam earlier today released a budget that imposes 3-5 percent cuts across state agencies in order to deal with the $142.7 million hole (at least) that would be created in next year’s budget if the legislature kills the Medicaid expansion private option. 

Among the agencies that would be hit with cuts is the Division of Children and Family Services, which handles the state’s foster care system.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a press release just now specifying what those cuts would mean in practice to DCFS in particular. 

Gillam explained that the cuts in his budget represented a big-picture snapshot of the hit that each line item would take, but it would be up to individual agency heads to determine how to apply the cuts. So what would DCFS do if hit with a $10.9 million cut? The governor’s office spells it out: 

In order to achieve a $10.9 million reduction, the Department of Human Services (DHS) would be forced to cut the current number of Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) staff by approximately 255 positions – 168 caseworkers and investigators, 31 supervisors and 56 program assistants. Those cuts would cause average caseloads to go from 29 to 48.

It’s important to note that DCFS was sued in the early 1990s, in part because of the high caseloads. That suit resulted in the state being under court-ordered monitoring for several years.

Hutchinson issued the following statement:

Today House leadership released an alternative budget in the event that funding for Arkansas Works is not passed in the upcoming fiscal session. To say I am concerned with some of these reductions is an understatement. One such reduction includes a proposed $10 million cut to our state’s foster care system.

The consequences of this cut alone is devastating and will directly impact the resources available for our foster families, our social workers and nearly 5,000 children in our state’s foster care system. Adequate funding and handling of our state’s foster care community is an important initiative of my administration. To further cut funding for DCFS is a disservice to the foster care community and to the children who so desperately need our help.

DHS Director Cindy Gillespie issued the following statement:

The staff who investigate child abuse and work with those children and families are already stretched too thin. Their caseloads are double that of the recommended national average and they work very long hours and give up time with their own families just to get their work done. Cuts to the Governor’s budget request would force us to reduce the current number of staff working in DCFS. If that happens, caseloads will skyrocket and, frankly, that puts children at risk.

Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.