On Feb. 5, 2020, 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 was signed into law. It made two simple, but noteworthy, changes to the eligibility requirements for adoptive parents applying for adoption assistance.
The first change reduces the minimum age of a child from 10 years of age to 7 years of age if age is the only factor used in determining eligibility for adoption assistance. The second change reduces the size of a group of siblings that must be placed together from three or more children to two or more.
These changes in the law were proposed by State Reps. Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz) and Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) and the Speaker’s Task Force on Adoption.
By expanding the definition of special needs within the statute, 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 allows for a larger pool of adoptive parents to apply for assistance.
To address the inevitable cost increase for the expanded adoption assistance, the Act also “[a]llows the Department of Children and Families to submit a request to the Joint Committee on Finance to transfer money from another appropriation to fund the increased assistance payments.”1
Marquette Class of 2021, has a background in contract negotiation and drafting, and in alternative dispute resolution.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Executive Budget and Finance, the fiscal effect of these changes will increase the costs for the state government beyond the Department of Children and Families’ budget.
According to the estimates and available data from recent years, the expanded Wis. Stat. section 50.09 will result in roughly 50 additional children receiving adoption assistance each year.2
Previously, the average final foster care rate for the group of children that fell within the parameters prior to 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 was $599 per month.3 With the new expanded special needs definition signed into effect with 2019 Wisconsin Act 92, the
estimated annual all funds cost in year 1 is $366,800 . . . [and] each year a new cohort costing approximately $366,800 would be added and that the cost would continue to build until the first cohort ages out of adoption assistance benefits.4
The Division of Executive Budget and Finance further examined the long-term fiscal implications of 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 and the expanded pool of children eligible for adoption assistance:
As the first cohort could receive payments for up to 18 years, the costs will continue to increase by $366,800 every year for 18 years. For example, in year 2 we assume costs of $733,600 with two cohorts of newly eligible children receiving payments. In year 3 we assume costs of $1,100,400 with three cohorts of newly eligible children receiving payments. At year 18, the cumulative effect will be approximately $6.6 million annually.5
The fiscal impact of AB 564 and the resulting 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 is quite drastic, but also has further ramifications that are not solely fiscal in nature. However, it is difficult to ignore the sizable cost increase to the state government that 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 will result in, and allowing the Department of Children and Families to request additional assistance from another appropriation will help alleviate this increase.
2019 Wisconsin Act 92 was generally well received throughout its life span. The Assembly Bill and Assembly Amendment 1 received no votes against its adoption, and the Wisconsin Ethics Commission reports that lobbying principals all supported AB 564, save for Disability Rights Wisconsin, which only had reservations at the speed in which AB 564 was being discussed and was hesitant the bill was going to be adopted initially.6
However, with Governor Evers signing the bill into law, the Act has been well supported and generally favored despite the fiscal pressures it might place on the state.
End Result: More Adoptions
These changes will allow for a larger pool of children to apply for adoption assistance payments, which will ultimately result in a higher number of adoptions of special needs children, including siblings that should be adopted together.
By allowing for a pair of siblings to be adopted and receive adoption assistance, rather than three or more siblings, more families that might otherwise not be able to afford to adopt two children may be willing and able to adopt two siblings with this change.
The change in the eligible children including and over the age of seven rather than 10 years of age will also have a similar effect of allowing for more families to adopt children that they might otherwise not be able to afford without the adoption assistance payments.
Overall, the changes made by 2019 Wisconsin Act 92 will have the effect of placing more children in forever homes. A $6.6 million increase in the cost of special needs adoptions over 18 years is significant, and it will have a fiscal impact on the Department of Children and Families accounts.
Although these numbers are based purely off estimates and past data, the relative increase per year could remain stable, as was predicted by the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Executive Budget and Finance. An average increase of over $350,000 per year for 18 years until the cost increase finally stabilizes will be tough to handle without additional assistance and/or funds allocated to the Department of Children and Families as a whole.
Nevertheless, the outcome of finding permanence for children who might not otherwise have found their forever home seems well worth the cost.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Children & the Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Children & the Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.
1 Scott Anderson, Wisconsin Governor Signs 16 Bills into Law: How They Affect You, Patch (Feb. 5, 2020).
2 Fiscal Estimate – 2019 Session, Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Executive Budget and Finance (AB-0564 analysis).
6 Assembly Bill 564, Wisconsin Ethics Commission.