Uresti: Senate budget bill should do more for kids, families
Sen. Carlos Uresti said the $182.2 billion budget passed by the Texas Senate on Wednesday does not adequately fund programs that help families and protect children from abuse and neglect.
"Senate Bill 1 falls short of the commitment that the state should be making to its most vulnerable citizens," Uresti said. "From abuse prevention and treatment to family health and foster care, this bill should have done more."
Uresti found it ironic that the spending measure passed on the National Day of Hope, which marks the beginning of Child Abuse Awareness Month.
"The budget we passed today will slow the momentum the Legislature made in protecting children during the last two sessions and may even erase our gains," Uresti said. "As the recession continues, greater strains will be placed on Texas families. The budget does not account for an increase in caseloads that is surely on the way."
While the bill would provide $2.6 billion to the Department of Family and Protective Services, a number of crucial items were placed on an unfunded "wish list."
For example, the agency once again will not get the funds it needs to meet a federally mandated level for face-to-face visits by Child Protective Services caseworkers. DFPS says it can visit only 75% of the children in its system, given current staff and resources, while federal standards require that 95% of the children be visited.
In 2002, Texas was fined $4 million for failing to meet the standard. While that fine was dismissed on a technicality, the possibility of more fines exists. Because of current staff shortages, the agency is unable to adequately serve some 15,750 children and 27,000 parents.
DFPS requested $24.4 million to meet those standards, but the bill allocated only $8 million on the list of unfunded items.
"While the prospect of additional fines is troubling enough, there is a greater concern," Uresti said. "Children in jeopardy will continue to endure unacceptable levels of inattention by the people who are supposed to protect them."
Others unfunded items in Article XI are critical to the agency's mission and future, including $6.2 million for increased prevention services; $3.3 million to expand services to youth transitioning from foster care; $7 million to increase client services and add program support staff, and $2.8 million to strengthen services to families.
"These items should not be on a wish list," Uresti said. "They should be on the list with other priorities."
The budget also falls short on funding the Nursing Family Partnership program. If NFP only gets the $8.1 million called for in the bill, the Children's Shelter in San Antonio and University Health Systems would have to lay off some nurses that have been hired for the program.
Uresti, who voted for the bill "with reservations," said Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden agreed to look at the numbers and consider some of Uresti's funding priorities.
Carlos Uresti is the senator from State Senate District 19 representing over 750,000 residents throughout a 23 county area stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio to El Paso County, including all or part of the following: Bandera, Bexar, Brewster, Culberson, Crockett, El Paso, Edwards, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kinney, Loving, Maverick, Medina, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, and Winkler counties. Covering 55,000 square miles, the district contains 62 school districts and spans two time zones.