|Action||Establish Regulation for State Oversight of Local Departments of Social Services|
|Comment Period||Ends 2/6/2019|
Fairfax County Advisory Social Services Board Comments on 22 VAC 40-677-10.
The Fairfax County Advisory Social Services Board (ASSB) appreciates the opportunity to share its comments on the proposed changes to the regulations state oversight of a local social services department that fails to provide services (22 VAC 40-677-10). There are several issues with the proposed language which the ASSB feels is vague and overbroad:
- Clarity is needed on the definition of “failure” to provide public assistance or social services.
- The difference between the triggers for the Commissioner directing and controlling a locality’s services (Section A) and withholding reimbursement (Section B) needs to specified.
- Clear Performance and Outcome Measures are required to clarify the standards by which the state will assess local social service agencies. Such standards would improve outcomes for children and families.
- Further details are needed regarding the ongoing maintenance of measures taken by the Commissioner once responsibility to direct and oversee the programs is transferred back to the county or city
- Definition of “failure”
While the ASSB understands these measures are being developed in order to address the rare case when the Commissioner would need to step in to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens, we are nevertheless concerned with the language regarding when this regulation would need to be implemented. The current language states in Section A that the Commissioner “would have the authority to direct and oversee all programs set forth in Subtitles II and III” if the locality “fails, refuses, or is unable to provide public assistance or social services." How is failure or the inability to provide public assistance or social services to be measured?Local Departments of Social Services are subjected to a myriad of reviews of their compliance with State and Federal standards. If a local department is found to be out of compliance with one of these reviews, does that constitute failure to provide public assistance or social services? Is failure being out of compliance over time? If so, over what time period would a local department need to be out of compliance before they are deemed to be “failing” to provide public assistance or social services?
Local Directors need to understand the triggers for this action to take steps to prevent it. What will be the process leading to the determination of failure? Will there be a time period where the local department will be given an opportunity to comply before the Commissioner steps in? How long will the local department be given to comply? The process for invoking Section A of these regulations needs to be detailed and specific so that all local directors understand the standards by which they are being measured.
2. “Fails to operate” vs “fails to provide necessary staff”.
The language in section B differs from the language in Section A.In Section A, the Commissioner “shall have the authority to direct and oversee all programs” if any county or city, through its appropriate authorities or officers fails, refuses, or is unable to provide public assistance or social services.” While in Section B, “the commissioner may also withhold from any county or city the entire reimbursement for administrative expenditures” if a “locality fails to operate public assistance programs or social service programs in accordance with state laws and regulations” OR “fails to provide the necessary staff for the implementation of such programs.”
How are the standards in Section B different from one another and how do they differ from the standard outlined in Section A. Can a locality “fail to provide necessary staff” without failing to operate public assistance or social services program? Can section B only be invoked if Section A has already been invoked, or can the Commissioner withhold administrative expenditures without stepping in to provide services? How will the Commissioner define “the necessary staff for the implementation of such programs”? Will localities be given an opportunity to comply before the Commissioner withholds administrative expenditures?
3. Ongoing maintenance of transitions plan.
Once responsibility to direct and oversee the programs is transferred back to the county or city, will the county or city be required to maintain any changes instituted by the Commissioner while they were directing and overseeing the programs (e.g., staffing changes?). If the locality fails to maintain these changes, will they be considered out of compliance? If a locality does not have the financial resources or staff to comply with state requirements and they are penalized by having their administrative reimbursement withheld, how will they ever be able to achieve compliance?
4. Clear Performance Measures and Outcome Goals
A performance measurement and outcome plan would increase transparency and accountability throughout the state and local system. The State of California recently employed such a system based on Domains including Child Safety, Stability and Permanency of Connections, Health and Education. Most importantly this system includes precise performance measures and indicators. At a minimum, Virginia’s regulations must provide local agencies with advance notice of the standards by which the state will measure their performance.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on these proposed regulations. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me through the staff of the Fairfax County Advisory Social Services Board.