Legislators for Texas, as well as those who oversee counties and cities throughout the state, are currently working on plans to use their piece of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Buckner International President and CEO Albert Reyes wrote the following op-ed to suggest how Dallas County can use the federal funding to do its part to help its most vulnerable children, but he also urges all legislators to put Texas’ foster care crisis front and center in their funding decisions. Now is the time to implement real solutions across the state.
Dallas County will receive $355.4 million in federal funding due to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. That sounds like a lot of money to help alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our community, but the reality is more than 70% of the funds are already spoken for following last week’s announcement by the county regarding its incorporation of $255 million into the new budget.
That leaves $100 million, and everyone has an idea of how to best use it – me included.
The ARP was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021 – the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a COVID-19 as a pandemic. The $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package built upon the CARES Act signed by President Trump in 2020.
One of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime created a silver lining through a renewed sense of duty related to our country’s safety and recovery. And despite political disagreements on the amount of relief money to provide and how to implement the relief efforts, I hope Dallas County can come together and see we have a chance to use the money to help with our local foster care crisis.
Nonprofit advocacy group TexProtects recently sent a letter to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and the four Dallas County commissioners requesting a portion of our county’s ARP funding support four outlined strategies to support children in foster care and prevent removals from happening in the first place.
Buckner International is one of many local organizations that signed on to support the funding request.
We signed on because Buckner is committed to serving vulnerable children in our community, and the children who end up in foster care may be the most vulnerable of all. These children not only experience the trauma and neglect that leads to their removal, but they face the trauma associated with being removed from their family despite the necessity.
On top of this, the pandemic had the greatest impact on our most vulnerable populations, turning many of these children into casualties of parental unemployment, virtual learning challenges, and decrease in state resources like residential youth treatment facilities.
Texas can not keep failing these children by adding even more traumatic elements to their young lives.
The letter from TexProtects states, “The number of children without placements continue to worsen by the month and there is little relief in sight due to a variety of factors. The approximate 25 children without homes in the county at any given time is just a symptom of many deeper challenges facing the state’s foster care system, which many believe to be on the brink of imploding.”
We are asking Dallas County for a total of $30.2 million divided across the four strategies of support for our children. These strategies include investing in community-based child abuse prevention programs ($1 million); investing in Family Connects, a hospital-based program providing free nurse home visits to families with newborns ($6.5 million); investing in monetary assistance for relatives caring for children to reduce foster care placements ($17 million); and investing in an increased rate for child placing agencies ($5.7 million).
Each strategy developed by TexProtects outlines the cost, children impacted, cost-benefit, metrics, and timeline use of such funding. Dallas County holds existing contracts with several entities engaged in these strategies that could be leveraged and expedite the process in reaching these children.
That one-time request of $30.2 million is only 8% of the overall $355.4 million received by Dallas County, and it’s not even a drop in the bucket of the ARP’s total $1.9 trillion – but what it provides is hope to more than 26,000 children in Dallas County, as outlined by TexProtects to Judge Jenkins.
We can create lasting change in the lives of these children through a combination of public and private collaboration and the investment of a small portion of the federal funding, but we need your help. Dallas County is actively seeking input from the community about how to use the ARP funding. You can email ARP@dallascounty.org and tell them you want to see a portion of funds allocated to our local foster care crisis solution.
The foster care crisis is not unique to Dallas County. It is a burden that falls on the shoulders of all Texans. Luckily, every county and city in Texas, including the City of Dallas, will receive a portion of the $16.7 billion designated for Texas, and the state legislature is currently confirming allocations.
Child welfare nonprofits and organizations across the state have an opportunity to advocate for these funds by reaching out to their local government officials. Buckner will champion other community strengthening initiatives in the regions we serve, and we encourage others around the state to also invest in a brighter future for our children.