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Cumberland County to get over $250,000 from state for pilot emergency placement program


Cumberland County will receive more than $250,000 in funding from the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services for a two-year pilot emergency placement fund program, officials said Wednesday. 

The news came during the February meeting of the county’s Social Services board, which convenes monthly at the department’s 1225 Ramsey St. headquarters. Natasha Tomlinson, a division chief with children services, said the money is part of a pilot program called the DSS Emergency Placement Fund.

According to a list of county allocations provided by the department, Cumberland County will receive $251,332 during the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, and throughout the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Cumberland is among the top counties receiving funding statewide, with only Guilford and Mecklenburg counties slated to receive more, the allocations show. 

The money will fund residential treatment placement for children in the department’s custody who have “complex behavioral health needs,” according to a Jan. 31 memo from Adrian Daye, the deputy director for child welfare practice with NCDHHS. 

Tomlinson said those needs could include psychosexual treatment, care for medically fragile children and 24/7 one-on-one monitoring in a mental health facility. 

Each of North Carolina’s 100 counties received a base allocation of roughly $20,000, with additional allocations determined by each county’s percentage of children in foster care, Tomlinson said. Department data shows Cumberland County had 468 children and youth ages 18-21 in foster care as of Jan. 31.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity,” she said. 

The state will gather data on the program’s effectiveness to determine if it will become permanent, Tomlinson said. 

Proposed budget

Brenda Reid Jackson, the department’s director, presented its proposed budget to the board Wednesday. 

“Everything you have in front of you is subject to change because we’re very early in the budget process,” she said, noting that the department was not requesting any new positions or reclassifications of employees this year because of the county’s recent classification and compensation plan adjustments.

The department’s biggest ask will be $200,000 to improve broadband access for its employees, Jackson said. 

“We have a lot of staff that work remote and they don’t have good WiFi at home or the speed is not high enough,” she said, adding that she struggles with spotty internet at her own home. 

The department will also request funding for metal detectors at its Ramsey Street headquarters, Jackson said. 

“We have a lot of people coming here with weapons,” she said. “The work that we do here sometimes can be tenuous.” 

According to a budget summary, the department’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, currently stands at $70.2 million, though Jackson emphasized that will likely change. 

“I do believe we’re going to have a cost-neutral budget,” she said. “I didn’t really spend a lot of time going through the numbers, because I believe they’re going to change.” 

The board unanimously approved sharing the proposed budget with County Manager Clarence Grier and his staff. Jackson said she will meet with them on March 25.

Vacancies improved, but continue

Department officials said staff vacancies have trended downward, though the Dec. 1 Medicaid expansion necessitated the addition of 57 positions, impacting those numbers. 

Without those 57 positions, data provided by the department shows a department-wide vacancy rate of 26.5%, with 195 vacancies as of Jan. 31. Factoring in the additional positions to help with Medicaid expansion in the department’s Economic Services division, DSS’s vacancy rate would be 31.7%.

The bulk of the vacancies come from the Performance Management, Children Services and Economic Services divisions, data shows. Including the Medicaid expansion positions, Performance Management has a 30.8% vacancy rate, Children Services has a 32.2% vacancy rate and Economic Services has a 39.3% vacancy rate.

Jackson said February data has been promising thus far, with no DSS employees vacating positions during the first two weeks of the month. 

The board will next meet on March 27 at 1 p.m.

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

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Cumberland County, Department of Social Services, foster care, budget