On February 10, DHHR announced that payments for thousands of children living with kinship families and legal guardians would be delayed by one week due to problems with the conversion of data from the old FACTS data system to the new PATH data system. Almost three weeks later, the delays have impacted kinship, foster, and adoptive families and legal guardians. Many are still waiting to receive their children’s funds. These funds are provided by DHHR to assist in meeting the needs of children who have been separated from their birth families.
In a letter sent to lawmakers and DHHR on February 21, Marissa Sanders, Founder and Executive Director of the WV Foster Adoptive & Kinship Parents Network, an advocacy organization for families involved in the child welfare system, called for a $1,000 supplemental payment to all impacted families to ensure they are made whole. This figure is based on average fees reported by families and an estimated average of the monthly funds sent to families. “I have been in constant communication with families impacted by delayed payments. People are facing overdraft fees, late fees, even disconnect and eviction notices as a result of these failures. I have connected some families with help acquiring food, gas, and assistance with bills after other community resources were unable to meet their needs,” Sanders said.
Many families had automatic payments set up in anticipation of receiving those funds on their normal schedule. When the funds did not arrive on time, their account quickly began accruing overdraft fees. As payments were returned, this led to cascading problems of late fees and additional overdrafts when bills were resubmitted to the bank. One adoptive family, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from DHHR said, “I had so many overdraft fees that my mortgage company would no longer accept payments from that account. I had to close the account and open a new one.
Now I have to change my direct deposit information, which will delay next month’s payment.”
Other families had to delay or cancel important sports registrations, school events, or therapies for their children. “When I finally received the funds for my children, nearly 75% went to overdraft fees. This meant that as the next round of bills came through, I became overdrawn again. As a result, I have been unable to pay for soccer fees and equine therapy for my children,” said another family speaking on condition of anonymity.
Most families who have called DHHR for assistance report that multiple calls to different numbers left them without answers about when their payment would be received or how to get help for immediate needs caused by these delays. As one family said, “Unfortunately, you get the same message no matter who you call: ‘Sorry, can’t help, it’s someone else’s fault.’ I am satisfied that I left no stone unturned, but I still don’t know when the deposit will be made.”
On March 1, DHHR announced a process for families to apply for reimbursement of fees related to the delayed payments.
While impacted families appreciate this offer, most feel that a supplemental payment to all impacted families would be a more efficient and immediate way to provide relief, especially for families who are still struggling. Sanders said, “Families may not receive bills and statements that show fees until next month. By then they may have incurred more fees. Mailing documents and waiting for DHHR to process and reimburse these fees could take weeks that families can’t afford. This process creates more bureaucratic red tape for families who are already in distress.”
Network members felt the application process could be useful for families with unique or excessive losses beyond the $1,000 supplemental payment. They said the process should be tweaked to allow for mail or digital submission of documents and to provide a toll-free number caregivers can call with questions. It should also be expanded to include fees incurred in March for families who have not yet received their full February payment.
Going forward, families and advocates hope DHHR will prepare for the possibility of more delays, improve communication and collaboration with families, and establish effective ways to meet immediate needs when crises arise.