Texas estimates cost of caring for polygamist sect’s children at $21M

AUSTIN — It will cost taxpayers $21 million to care for a polygamist sect’s children over the next year, the Health and Human Services Commission estimated Monday.

Foster-care payments for more than 450 youngsters removed because of possible child abuse at the group’s Eldorado ranch will cost nearly $1 million a month, commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said.

Virtually all of the sect children are deemed to need a “basic” level of service, which at $39 a day is the least costly of Texas’ four levels of paid foster care. Nearly doubling the monthly cost, however, is the fact that many — a precise number was not available — are staying in emergency shelters. The state pays shelters $106 a day.

Ms. Goodman said other monthly costs will include $325,500 in health care, provided under the state-federal Medicaid program for the poor; and $425,000 for an additional 70 protective services workers — as soon as they’re hired.

The estimates came on the eve of a special Senate Finance Committee hearing today to examine the costs of the raid, the largest child-protection sweep in U.S. history.

“The focus has always been on what you do for the children and how do you protect the children,” Ms. Goodman said. “Obviously, we have to take care of the costs as well. … We have to look at that going forward. I think we’ll get a lot of good guidance tomorrow from Senate Finance.”

The state has received bills for almost $5.3 million for costs related to last month’s raid, makeshift shelters and state employee overtime pay, Ms. Goodman said.

Bus transportation for the children cost nearly $1.1 million, and state employees from seven departments put in almost $1.7 million in overtime and filed for just less than $1.2 million in travel expenses.

Ms. Goodman said Schleicher County, home to Eldorado and the ranch, hasn’t billed the state yet.

Still, she said, it’s possible that the final tab for the first phase of the investigation will be substantially below an earlier estimate of $7.5 million.

That’s because some state agencies’ first-blush estimates were much inflated, Ms. Goodman said.

For instance, she said, some agencies included “salary costs that they would’ve been paying anyway” instead of just overtime related to the polygamist raid.

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick have authorized state agencies to pay Eldorado-related costs out of the Medicaid budget.

However, because Medicaid isn’t expected to have excess funds, the commission — parent agency to Child Protective Services and most of the other most heavily affected departments — is expected to ask the Legislature early next year to pay for the costs of the sect investigation by passing an emergency spending bill, Ms. Goodman said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday May 20, 2008.
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