- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The director of Mississippi’s Department of Child Protection Services said Tuesday that the agency is about $44 million short of what it needs for the final five months of the budget year.

But he told lawmakers that they can solve the agency’s budget shortfall by spending only about $12 million. The director, Jess Dickinson, said the $12 million can be routed through the Department of Human Services, which could then use it to receive additional federal money.

“This is a pathway out,” Dickinson told members of the House Appropriations Committee.

Child Protection Services has been splitting away from Human Services in recent years as state officials have tried to put more time, money and effort into solving foster care problems after the state was sued. The split into separate agencies is supposed to be complete by this summer.

Budget problems arose because Child Protection Services has less access to federal money, said Dickinson, a former Supreme Court justice who became director in September.

He said Child Protection Services was facing a $52 million shortfall for the current budget year, which ends June 30. That figure was reduced to $49 million by canceling some contracts and cutting back to what Dickinson called the agency’s core responsibilities. He said he will save another $5 million by not filling some vacant jobs the next five months and by delaying work on an update for a computer system. That would bring the shortfall to the $44 million he mentioned.

Legislators will consider bills that would keep a connection between the Department of Human Services and Child Protection Services, largely with the goal of helping head off budget problems. One is House Bill 1171 . Another is Senate Bill 2075 .

The House bill attempts to solve a specific problem Dickinson mentioned Tuesday. Under current law, the state Supreme Court chief justice may appoint a special judge to temporarily serve in circuit court or chancery court. The bill would allow the chief justice to temporarily serve in county court. Dickinson said that would help reduce the backlog of county court cases dealing with termination of parental rights for the birth parents of children in foster care and awaiting adoption. He said coastal Harrison County has a long list of such cases.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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