Both the House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday against a plan that would require Connecticut to increase funding for the Department of Children and Families to $801.2 million a year.
The Senate, by its 25-8 vote and the House by its 110-36 vote, rejected the agreement touted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.
The agreement would allow the child welfare agency to begin to get out from under federal oversight it’s been under for more than two decades.
Although lawmakers complain there’s no date certain to exit federal court oversight, which is part of their concern. The lawsuit filed by the plaintiff Juan F. in 1989 found that the agency fell short of caring for abused and neglected children.
The agreement, which was negotiated by the department along with its outside counsel, would have reduced monitoring of different aspects of the agency from 22 to six.
Sen. Paul Formica, R-Niantic, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, said he could not support the plan.
“This agreement does not settle the case,” Formica said. He added he’d rather see state officials work with DCF to come up with a new plan that “truly modifies and doesn’t tie the hands of this legislature and future legislatures.”
If the legislature decided to do nothing with the settlement, it would have been adopted on Feb. 6 without a vote of the full General Assembly, much like a labor contract. However, both the House and the Senate decided to vote on the settlement.
The House voted despite a passionate pitch for the plan by Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who chairs the Children’s Committee.
Urban said the federal oversight costs the state taxpayers $1 million a year. She added that, “We have the dubious distinction of being under federal oversight for 27 years.”
She argued that state agencies do a better job than has been portrayed in taking care of children in their care.
Urban added that there is also a financial danger “if we go back to court,” stating the court is likely to impose a ruling that will cost the state “$50 million to $100 million more” than the plan that was before the state legislature.
Her argument didn’t sway her colleagues.
Malloy was unhappy with the House and Senate votes.
Malloy said every year lawmakers balk at the amount of money he wants to cut from the Department of Children and Families so he doesn’t understand why now they don’t want to commit to spending $801 million a year. That’s a $6.4 million increase from its current level.
It’s unknown how long the state would have to commit to spend $801 million on DCF.
But as far as funding the agency is concerned, Malloy doesn’t understand why lawmakers are objecting.
“This is an issue people want to take with respect to DCF for reasons that are unknown to me,” Malloy said.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz also expressed her disappointment in the votes.
“Many members of the General Assembly expressed reservations about committing to a minimum funding level for the agency,” Katz said. “They believed that agreeing to a set funding level would tie their hands Unfortunately, their rejection of this agreement, which was arrived at through intense negotiations with the plaintiffs and federal authorities, will in the end be what results in greater restrictions on the state’s ability to set policy and funding levels.”
Katz said she’s concerned the federal court will interpret the rejection of the agreement as a “lack of will to meet the requirements of existing federal oversight.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.