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Red Lake moves closer to full federal child protection funding

A $500,000 appropriation from the 2009 Legislature allows the Red Lake Band of Chippewa to move closer to full funding of child protection cases.

The monies will allow the Red Lake Nation to transition from Beltrami County and the state of Minnesota to a direct relationship with the federal government on out-of-home child placement costs, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said Thursday.

Currently a $2 million item in Beltrami County's human services budget and payable from county property tax dollars, child protection program funding under federal Title IV-E would move from the state to the federal government under a new law, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.

Beltrami County now pays 50 percent of Title IV-E costs with the federal government reimbursing the rest through the state.

"Instead of getting 50 percent federal reimbursement, we'll bet between 80 and 100 percent federal reimbursement," said Skoe, author of the provision and, as vice chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee, member of the taxes conference committee that signed off on a non-controversial tax policy bill that Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed.

The $500,000 will be available to Beltrami County this calendar year to be distributed to the Red Lake Nation for the cost of implementing the federal law on the reservation.

"Last October, the federal government passed a law that allows ... direct Title IV-E money for child placements to Indian bands," Skoe said. "The research that they're doing on outcomes shows that these kids are actually responding better to some of the work that Red Lake has been doing."

Under the new law, Red Lake would be running its own child placement program, he said. "They'll be accessing the money directly from the federal government."

The U.S. Department of Human Services is currently working through the rule-making process to set up the program, which is expected to begin Oct. 1. Skoe said the Red Lake Band of Chippewa has made application to the program.

"It's a win-win, in that it kind of takes some of the burden off of Beltrami County and it's better for the kids," Skoe said.

When switching over from one program to another, from the county-administered program to the Red Lake program, there is a cost, Skoe said. "And the program dollars don't cover those transition costs. That's what this $500,000 is for, to help with the transition from a county to Red Lake-run program."

With the promise of a direct Red Lake-federal relationship, Skoe said he didn't want the cost of the transition to be why it didn't happen.

But there is a glitch.

Since Republican Pawlenty didn't accept the DFL-controlled Legislature's budget that called for an income tax increase, the governor said he would unallot funding to close a $3 billion budget gap between expenses and revenues for the biennium that starts July 1.

"I'm hopeful the governor doesn't unallot it," Skoe said. "There was discussion during the end of the session about his line-item vetoing the bill, and I got a hold of Commissioner Hanson and Commissioner Einess and explained the importance of it. They brought the information to the governor and he did not line-item veto it."

Tom Hanson is Pawlenty's commissioner of Management and Budget and Ward Einess his commissioner of Revenue.

"Being that he let it go from being line-item vetoed, I'm hopeful that he will also not unallot it but that doesn't mean he won't," Skoe said.

The movement from Beltrami County to federal funding came to a head in 2007 when the county stopped paying for child placements involving Red Lake children, saying it had no jurisdiction over tribal court rulings. As a sovereign nation, Red Lake was working cooperatively with the county, but then was not able to finalize a formal contract between the tribe and the county for reimbursement of services by maximizing the eligibility of children for Title IV-E federal reimbursement.

The tribe paid for the services until it ran out of reserves and then appealed to the state Department of Human Services. That department ruled the county eligible for paying for child protection services for all its residents, whether on the reservation or not, and threatened to withhold all state human services funding from Beltrami County unless it resumed paying for child placement services for Red Lake children.

"We've had discussions the last couple of years about how this is going to work," Skoe said. "We've all recognized that the federal government had a role to play here, and that Red Lake would be better off if they could manage and run their own program for their own kids.

"Well, here we are -- everything we've asked for is a possibility," he said.