Federal government puts state services funding at risk

ST. PAUL (AP) — A 12-county experiment to open child protection cases to the public looked to be in jeopardy Thursday because of a conflict with federal rules that could cost the state millions.
State officials were waiting to hear from federal officials on what will happen next. Sixteen other states with open court systems could also be affected.
What is likely is that the federal government will talk to the states “to work it as best we all can,” said Katie Miller, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“No one has initiated any kind of adverse funding action on any state,” she said.
At risk for Minnesota is about $60 million a year in federal funds for child protection, foster care and adoption services. The money makes up more than 20 percent of spending on the state services.
The issue arose when a high-ranking official with the federal agency wrote in a June 29 memo that child protection officials are barred from disclosing information about troubled families in public court hearings or files because it would violate federal confidentiality rules.
The memo was a routine policy interpretation sent to all states. Miller said the issue came up at a national meeting.
The pilot project, which began a week before the memo went out, is intended to make the system more accountable by letting the public scrutinize decisions about abused and neglected children.
Although the experiment is continuing while state officials seek answers, several officials said that they doubt the state Supreme Court would let the project continue if it means losing the money.
A court order started the project, so one would be required to end it.
The federal ruling came from James Harrell, deputy commissioner of the Health and Human Services administration on children, youth and families.
The memo doesn’t threaten sanctions, but it says violation of federal confidentiality rules is a “compliance issue.” The state must comply with federal guidelines to be eligible for federal money, Sutton said.