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Idaho House approves $96 million budget that includes funding for more social workers

Idahoans fill the House’s public gallery at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Idahoans fill the House’s public gallery at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho House of Representatives approved a budget bill on Wednesday for the Department of Health and Welfare that includes funding for 24 new positions in the Child Welfare division, along with a pay increase for case workers and an increase to foster care reimbursement rates.

The bill, which includes $96.6 million for Idaho’s child welfare system, passed with no debate on a 43-22 vote and now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

The request for 24 additional personnel is a cost of nearly $1.8 million on an annual basis and includes a 7% pay increase for case workers and safety assessors in the amount of $921,200 on top of the standard state change in employee compensation.

The Idaho Capital Sun reported on the issue of social workers leaving the department at higher than usual rates in a series of stories late last year. The workers cited burnout from unreasonable work expectations as a major reason as to why they were leaving. One of the most frequent complaints was about comp time that built up and went unused because child welfare workers were ineligible for overtime pay and couldn’t take time off with such heavy workloads. That has since changed after the department made a request to the Idaho Division of Human Resources, Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told the Legislature in January. Those workers can now be paid overtime.

The budget includes a $6.1 million increase to foster care reimbursement rates, along with a one-time supplemental budget for a 30% to 60% rate increase for foster family assistance through June 30, when the fiscal year ends. Jeppesen told the Legislature in January that Idaho’s reimbursement rates for foster families are the lowest of any state in the region.

The bill also includes funding for an increase to employee pay at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center and additional funding for crisis staffing, along with funding for a remodel of the treatment center.

The Senate will likely vote on the bill by next week.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.