Some monthly visits with children in foster care may happen virtually instead of in-person, under a bill approved by the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.
On a 12-6 vote, HF2914, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth), was referred to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee.
The bill would reinstate and extend Department of Human Services’ program waivers in several areas, including allowing virtual, rather than in-person foster care visits, in some circumstances.
It would also allow oral and written signatures for public assistance applicants; let some people work without direct supervision when waiting for background studies; allow required oversight of personal care assistants to happen through telecommunication; and let the department implement an emergency staffing pool program for care facilities.
The waivers for some in-person activities offer flexibilities and resources that have helped caregivers stay on the job in the first year of the pandemic, Wendy Underwood, vice president of social justice advocacy and engagement at Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, wrote in a letter of support.
“As DHS waivers expired and variants of the virus have surged, however, we have experienced growing case numbers and frequent outbreaks that have added stress and strain to our workforce, clients and guests,” Underwood wrote.
After hearing about significant workforce shortages among caregivers, Rep. Kristin Robbins (R-Maple Grove) said she wants to support the bill, but has concerns about waiving the in-person meeting requirements for children in foster care.
“I think it is very important that people go to the home,” she said. “What you see on the screen is very narrow.”
“We believe face-to-face should be the standard; this would be an alternative when certain situations arise,” said Angela Youngerberg, Blue Earth County human services director of business operations, giving an example of a family that has a COVID-19 exposure.
She said the waiver would be used when placement is not a concern, but health concerns are.
Schultz said modifications to some of the bill’s child care requirements are to be discussed at a later date by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee as part of a clone bill, HF2927, sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul).
The companion to Schultz’s bill, SF2876, sponsored by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), was to be heard by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee Thursday. The Pinto-sponsored bill has no Senate companion.