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FLEXIBLE FUND FOR FAMILY SERVICES (FFFS) Frequently Asked Questions

For many years, counties have requested more flexibility and local discretion in the expenditure of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. Recognizing that needs vary in New York State - a rural, small county might have very different needs from those in New York City - Governor Pataki has proposed in his 2005-06 Executive Budget a new Flexible Fund for Family Services (FFFS).

This new fund incorporates TANF funding into a $1 billion flexible allocation for counties. The programs that may be funded in the FFFS are as follows: any federally allowable TANF use, such as Child Care (TANF-funded portion), Domestic Violence Screening and Non-Residential Domestic Violence services, EAF Child Welfare, Employment-related Transportation, EAF JD/PINS, Local Administration, PINS/Preventive Services, Pregnancy Prevention, Substance Abuse Screening, Title XX (TANF-funded portion), Transitional Support and Employment Services, and Youth Employment Services.

To help gain a better understanding of the FFFS, staff from the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) developed a set of Questions and Answers that are posted on all three State agencies' websites.

GENERAL QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

1. Question: What is the benefit to a local district of the FFFS?

Answer: FFFS provides districts with flexibility to devote significantly higher amounts to program areas of their choosing, rather than having the State determine what amounts must be spent on child care, services, or various state contracts. With the added benefits of continued service from some existing state contracts and the availability of SFY 2002-03 through 2004-05 funds that remain in place, districts should realize benefits that exceed the $1 billion during SFY 2005-06, and perhaps into SFY 2006-07.

2. Question: Will the FFFS allocations be broken out by program area or will it be presented in one lump sum per district? How were the local allocations developed?

Answer: Allocations will be made in one lump sum per district. Allocations were developed through a review of various SFY 2004-05 allocations, recent data on actual spending for uncapped TANF local administration, and data on awards in each district from state-level TANF contracts. Each county's allocation represents the same relative share of funding as they claimed or were allocated in 2004-05, with minor adjustments.

3. Question: Will the FFFS remain stable in future years?

Answer: We expect to continue to make the FFFS available to local districts in future years; however, funding will be subject to several factors, including fluctuations in caseload levels, Federal TANF reauthorization, future TANF State allocations and circumstances the State may face in the future.

4. Question: What is the effective date of the FFFS? Is it one uniform date of April 1, 2005, or are there retroactive components? What is the operating time period for the new program; how long are the funds good for?

Answer: Generally the start date of FFFS is 4/1/2005. However, some components such as the use of funds for child welfare programs will be retroactive to 10/1/2004 due to federal reporting time periods. Counties will be required to inform State officials of the amount of funds they are requesting for transfer to the Title XX Block Grant and the Federal Child Care and Development Fund by 6/30/2005 so that the appropriate documentation of these transfers can be completed within federally-mandated timeframes. In most cases, funds for FFFS will be available for expenditure for a total of three years, from SFY 2005-06 through SFY 2007-08. Relevant claiming protocols and claiming periods will be detailed in subsequent releases.

5. Question: Does the FFFS cancel any existing funds that are now under county control? Do counties retain their current transitional services and employment block grants, Drug and Alcohol, Domestic Violence screening allocations?

Answer: To comply with federal reporting requirements, all allocations and contracts supported by appropriations from SFY 1997-98 to 2001-02 will not be extended after current program end dates. Districts should make every effort to exhaust those funds prior to use of newer-year and FFFS funds.

6. Question: Will mandated programs need to be retained at the same levels as prior years? Will mandated programs continue to be mandated?

Answer: Programs need not continue at the same level, but currently mandated functions will continue to be required. We are exploring this issue further and may propose changes to particular mandates to provide additional relief to counties.

7. Question: How does the level of funding for the FFFS and the General Fund compare to prior years?

Answer: Year-to-year funding actually received by districts is projected to remain essentially the same or increase modestly. However, we recognize that since a single district FFFS allocation will replace separate funding amounts for different programs, year-to-year impacts for individual districts will need to be determined by each district. Districts will have flexibility to determine how much of the FFFS funding is assigned to the various TANF eligible programs. There are no year-to-year reductions from TANF associated with any of the transfers of TANF programs to the General Fund. These programs will be funded at 2004-05 TANF levels and now will be budgeted in host agencies rather than through TANF and are as follows: Advantage After School, Alternatives to Incarceration, a portion of Child Care and Child Welfare amounts, Child Welfare Quality, Food Pantries, Home Visiting, Juvenile Justice, School-Based Health Centers and Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Also, related programs such as the open-ended Child Welfare Services funding and the Foster Care Block Grant will continue as individually budgeted programs.

In addition, FFFS does not in any way restrict State funding for direct public assistance benefits, which continue to be budgeted as an entitlement program. The Local Administration Fund will provide $309 million in separate State support for administrative costs associated with temporary assistance, food stamps and employment.

CHILD CARE

8. Question: How much funding is available for child care?

Answer: The FFFS provides districts with the flexibility to identify how much TANF funding they choose to dedicate to child care, rather than the State determining that amount. In addition to the TANF amount a district transfers from the FFFS to the Federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), funding will continue to be available for Child Care subsidies from State and Federal funding sources. The State appropriation for Child Care is $136.066 million. In addition, New York State will continue to receive an allotment from the CCDF. The subsidies funded from other State and Federal sources within the Child Care Block Grant will be allocated to districts in a separate Local Commissioners Memorandum.

9. Question: Will districts be given additional flexibility in child care rates, prioritizing who receives slots, etc?

Answer: All counties will continue to maintain the same flexibility in regards to priority setting, establishing fees and selecting populations to be served. The child care subsidy program rules and regulations do not change. The FFFS allows counties to make individual decisions and to direct more or less money to support child care as local needs dictate. This allows counties to make decisions about managing their caseloads, but it does not allow counties to change the basic rules governing subsidies. Counties are already afforded significant flexibility in establishing priorities, creating locally defined standards for absences, establishment of family fees and categories of families to be served. All of these local prerogatives are maintained in this new flexible funding opportunity.

10. Question: Do all the child care subsidy regulations apply to these funds?

Answer: Yes, all the statutes and regulations apply. These changes only affect the allocation of funds, not the State and Federal rules that govern the program.

11. Question: Will there continue to be a reserve fund?

Answer: The creation of the FFFS program obviates the need for a separate Reserve Fund. In essence, the county's decision about how much to transfer from TANF to child care allows the county to establish its own ceiling for child care spending, up to the transfer ceiling. Thus, the additional administrative steps of requesting a Reserve Fund allocation, submitting a plan amendment, and then waiting for approval are eliminated. This is another benefit to the counties in terms of the administrative simplification offered by the Flexible Funding proposal.

12. Question: Will I still have a child care Maintenance of Effort (MOE)?

Answer: Yes, the MOE remains in place at the same level that it has been since the inception of the NYSCCBG to preserve Federal funding. Recoupment methods will remain the same as well: The 25% share on temporary assistance related child care will be the first source for meeting the MOE. To the extent that this is insufficient to meet the MOE, low income claims will be claimed against the MOE until the MOE is satisfied.

13. Question: Will all child care be claimed under the NYSCCBG? Will any child care be directly paid out of TANF?

Answer: Child care claims will not be directly paid out of TANF. It is important for each county to project how much funding overall it will spend on child care for the State fiscal year so that the appropriate amount of TANF can be included in the local plan for the Flexible Fund.

14. Question: What guidelines are there for counties in making that projection?

Answer: OCFS staff are available to assist in providing additional technical assistance however, the basic issues a county needs to look at are:

  • How much did the county spend on child care subsidy in the previous year?
  • What are the county's goals: Growth? Increased work participation requirements for public assistance recipients? Maintenance of the current program? Reduction of caseload?
  • Have there been other trends that need to be taken into consideration (i.e., shifts in the kind of care parents are selecting, etc)?
  • What is the county's allocation through the NYSCCBG?

15. Question: What if counties underestimate projections and transfer too little money?

Answer: If a county transfers too little funding, the district will be responsible for 100% of the claims that are above the amount allocated through the NYSCCBG and the amount transferred from the FFFS. Regardless of the amount a county transfers from the FFFS to the NYSCCBG, the county is still responsible for 25% of the cost of child care for public assistance recipients and for meeting the county's child care MOE.

16. Question: What if counties transfer too much money?

Answer: Child care claims will first be claimed against the district's MOE. Then, they will be claimed against the portion of the Flexible Fund that has been transferred to child care. Then, claims will be directed against the NYSCCBG allocation. Thus, to the extent that a county has over-estimated its transfer need in any given year, they will have "rollover" in their NYSCCBG allocation. It is expected that the county will then take this into consideration as it makes plans for its level of transfer in the subsequent year.

CHILD WELFARE

17. Question: Will the FFFS proposal impact the State's eligibility (i.e., the State's ability to meet MOE or match requirements) for and distribution of Title IV-B, either Subpart 1 or 2?

Answer: The State's ability to meet Title IV-B, Subparts 1 and 2 are not negatively impacted by the FFFS proposal. Child welfare expenditures not reimbursed by Federal funds qualify as Title IV-B, Subpart 2 MOE. These expenditures include those eligible for 65% State Child Welfare reimbursement.

18. Question: Does FFFS allow the flexibility to transfer funds between FFFS and Title XX? Will there be specific language to explain the maximum transfer amount?

Answer: Yes, districts will continue to have the flexibility to transfer TANF funds to Title XX within Federal transfer requirements related to Title XX and federal Child Care Development Fund. At a minimum, each district will be able to transfer up to 73% of the FFFS to the Child Care Development Fund and Title XX combined, with up to 24% of the FFFS eligible for Title XX. Any changes in the Federal TANF provisions associated with TANF Reauthorization will be addressed as necessary.

19. Question: Is there a need to revise eligibility procedures and/or priorities for authorizing child welfare funding? Will OCFS revise its instructions for child welfare eligibility determinations?

Answer: Eligibility for the child welfare funding sources (Title IV-E, TANF-EAF foster care and Title XX Below 200%) are unaffected. Title IV-E remains the program of choice for foster care. Districts should restrict the authorization of TANF-EAF only to foster care placements consistent with Federal requirements. OCFS recommends that districts no longer be required to do a TANF-EAF authorization for in-home child welfare services. The Federal eligibility criteria for those services have changed for eligible families and individuals in receipt of Family Assistance or with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level. For those FFFS funds that districts choose to transfer to Title XX, an eligibility determination for Title XX Below 200% must still be completed.

20. Question: Is foster care funding impacted by the FFFS proposal? Will we still have a foster care/public assistance (PA) swap?

Answer: The 2005-06 Executive Budget continues the Foster Care Block Grant as a separate State appropriation. A total of $373.5 million is recommended in State funding, which includes continuation of the base funding as well as the Child Care Worker Recruitment and Retention Add-On. Available cash spending within the Foster Care Block Grant will be increased by $73 million, as districts will not be required to offset TANF spending for JD/PINS and New York City Tuition. As in the past, allocation of the Foster Care Block Grant will be issued through a separate Local Commissioners Memorandum. The EAF Foster care swap will continue with TANF funds that are separate from the FFFS.

21. Question: Does the FFFS have any impact on other Federal or State funding? Does the FFFS include both the Title XX Transfer and Title XX Regular allocations?

Answer: Available funding for Title IV-E Foster Care, Adoption Subsidies, Independent Living and other federally funded programs except TANF are not impacted by the FFFS. Independent Living and Title XX Regular allocations will continue to be issued under a separate Local Commissioners Memorandum. In addition, the Advantage After-School Program, Home Visiting Program and Child Welfare Quality Enhancement Fund, previously funded from TANF, will now be supported from the State General Fund.

22. Question: Is the Services Random Moment Study (SRMS) going to continue and if so, will it be changed to reflect the FFFS proposal?

Answer: The SRMS requires no plan amendment or procedural changes to accommodate the FFFS proposal. The SRMS remains vital to establishing Federal reimbursement for administrative costs for: TANF-EAF; Title IV-E; Title XX and Title XX Below 200 Percent; the Chaffee Foster Care Independent Living Program; Title IV-B, Subparts 1 and 2; and other Federal grants.

23. Question: Will the FFFS proposal require changes in the claiming system or the claim schedules?

Answer: There are no immediate plans to revise any of the claim forms or procedures. Claim form revisions may be made as allowable to maximize flexibility of FFFS. The spending plans developed by districts will be used to track the requested transfers of TANF to Title XX and the Child Care Block Grant.

24. Question: Does the proposed FFFS continue to provide the annual $3 million in Non-residential Domestic Violence funding to support new/expanded services?

Answer: The Non-residential Domestic Violence program may still be funded from the FFFS at locally determined levels. As in prior years, local districts are encouraged to collaborate with non-profit providers in the provision of non-residential DV services.

CONTRACT PROGRAMS

25. Question: How will counties be provided with information on the quality and impact of services that they have not been providing directly, to help them make a decision as to whether or not to continue to fund these services (Bridge, EDGE and pregnancy prevention services,)? Is a county required to continue to contract for these programs currently managed by OCFS and DOL in the county?

Answer: OCFS and DOL will be available to provide technical assistance when requested about programming decisions, provider contracts, and current levels of funding to support local decision making.

26. Question: How will counties know what is currently being spent in their county on each of these program areas, who provides the services, and what needs assessment was done to determine the level of programming currently being provided?

Answer: OTDA will work with OCFS and DOL to provide counties with a package of information related to programs provided in their respective counties.

EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMS

27. Question: Must the FFFS be used to support the Jobs Program staff that provides employment services for public assistance applicants/ recipients on behalf of local districts?

Answer: No. The Governor's SFY 2005-06 Executive Budget includes funds to support these positions.

28. Question: The Department of Labor contracts with a number of organizations in our county to provide a variety of employment related services (e.g., transportation, adult education, wage subsidy programs).Will local districts have the option to continue these state administered contracts?

Answer: Yes. As part of its planning process, local districts may choose to designate a portion of its FFFS to continue to support these contracts. The State agencies would reserve these funds at local direction to support the contract costs.

29. Question: How does the FFFS affect the ability of counties to obtain reimbursement through employment administration funds? Will local employment administration funds be capped?

Answer: The 2005-06 Executive Budget would merge reimbursement for two funding streams related to local employment administration into the new Local Administration Fund. The TANF component of employment reimbursement will be included in FFFS, as well as reimbursement for all other TANF local administration. In addition, the State share of employment administration will be limited by the Local Administration Fund. There will be no fixed limit on Food Stamp E&T federal reimbursement, but the State will need to submit annual budgets to USDA in order to obtain any increase in those funds.

30. Question: Does the FFFS include funds to provide training related expenses, including transportation, to clients participating in work activities?

Answer: All payments to or on behalf of recipients including training related expenses are not included in the FFFS and districts may continue to claim for State and/or Federal reimbursement for such expenditures.

31. Question: Will State-contracted staff development services still be available to Local districts?

Answer: The FFFS does not affect the availability of State-contracted staff development services for social services districts.Existing WTW training, including the WTW Core Training, for social services district staff will continue to be available to districts.

32. Question: What about programs previously funded under TANF, i.e. LIVES, English Language Immersion, Family and Adult Literacy, Wage Subsidy, and transportation?

Answer: FFFS funds will provide local districts with the flexibility to implement any program that will assist their specific clients in moving toward self-sufficiency.

33. Question: Over the past several years we have received an allocation for the Summer Youth Employment Program, will we still continue to receive this funding?

Answer: Your local district will receive one allocation under the FFFS fund. Under this grant, your district will have the flexibility to fund programs including any allowable employment program to meet the needs of your clients in moving toward self-sufficiency.

34. Question: How will FFFS affect Youth Employment Program funding in my county?

Answer: The FFFS will permit each county to design a TANF Youth Employment Program that meets its needs. Rather than distributing funds by local workforce investment area, the FFS will include, on a county-by-county basis, that portion of funds that previously had been allocated to predominantly larger geographic regions known as workforce investment areas. The FFS will permit for greater strategic planning on a county level and permit the use of funds to be targeted to areas most in need in that county. Strong county-level interagency communication will be key in assessing the need as well as targeting the use of funds.

35. Question: The letter announcing the FFFS states that benefit payments made to or on behalf of recipients will continue to be reimbursed at traditional federal shares. However, in some instances, 100% TANF funds (e.g. Community Solutions for Transportation) are used to pay for some types of employment-related transportation costs (e.g., bus passes, car insurance, and car repairs). Will local districts not be allowed to use the FFFS for these types of costs?

Answer: Local districts will be permitted to use their FFFS for these transportation related services.

PLANNING

36. Question: Will the plan submission process be easier for counties than the current multiple plans that are required?

Answer: A single plan will be submitted to OTDA. The state agencies will coordinate plan review processes.

37. Question: Counties just received approval on the child care portion of the Consolidated Services Plan/Integrated Services Plan (CSP/ISP). Are counties now going to have to develop a whole new plan again?

Answer: No, all of the program decisions that you made as part of your CSP/ISP remain in force. The additional child care related information that you will have to submit as part of the Flexible Funding plan will be limited EXCLUSIVELY to the amount of funding you will be transferring from the FFFS into child care. The CSP/ISP will remain the document that you will use to define any county-level policy and program decisions for the child care subsidy program.

38. Question: What are the planning requirements and approval processes? In light of the new law requiring integrated planning at the county level, how does OCFS think that real integration will occur with another set of planning requirements?

Answer: Chapter 160 of the Laws of 2004 established the integrated Children and Families Services (CFS) Plan to be developed jointly by the local DSS and youth bureau. By 2008, all counties must have an integrated CFS Plan. This plan and the FFFS expenditure plan will be complementary rather than duplicative. The CFS Planning process is intended to be a county wide process of identifying outcomes for the county's children and families; establishing priorities and targeting funds to programs that address those locally identified priorities and needs. The FFFS expenditure plan should reflect the county's strategic investment of the TANF FFFS portion of the county's overall dollars. OCFS will work closely with OTDA, other state agencies and local stakeholders in developing the requirements for the CFS Plan.

39. Question: Will districts still be required to submit a Temporary Assistance and Food Stamp Employment Plan?

Answer: The FFFS plan will eliminate the need for districts to submit multiple separate fiscal plans for TANF-funded programs, such as the previous TANF New York Works Block Grant plan. Districts will continue to be required to submit a Temporary Assistance and Food Stamp Employment Plan once every two years. The statutorily required Employment Plan is necessary to identify district policy regarding work activity enrollment, the availability of support services and other aspects of the districts' employment services.This Plan is made available to Fair Hearings staff to enable them to appropriately enforce district policy. The State will continue to explore opportunities for minimizing planning requirements.

 

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