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Regulation regarding state intervention in local departments of social services open for public comment

The State Board of Social Services is considering a proposed regulation that would authorize the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services to intervene in situations where a local department is failing to provide public assistance or social services.  Current Code allows the Board to authorize the Commissioner to step in and provide for these services to be carried out if a county or city fails or refuses to do so.  The same statute also provides that in circumstances where a locality “fails to operate public assistance programs or social service programs in accordance with state laws or regulations or fails to provide the necessary staff for the implementation of such programs,” the Board may authorize the Commissioner to withhold (in whole or in part) the locality’s reimbursement for administrative expenditures.

This Code section has been in place for many years, but it provides that this authority shall be exercised “under regulations of the Board,” and regulations had not been adopted when this issue was revisited in 2018.  Emergency regulations were put in place in 2018 and were originally set to expire in June 2020, but were extended until December 2020.  The State Board of Social Services discussed the issue in summer 2019; VACo made public comment at the Board’s meeting encouraging the Board to spell out the parameters around when this authority would be invoked and incorporate certain protections for localities.  VACo and VML met with staff at the Virginia Department of Social Services in fall 2019 to discuss these concerns.

Permanent regulations are now under consideration and a public comment period is open until March 19.  The proposed text may be found at this link.  Comments may be submitted at this link.  VACo’s comments are available at this link and largely recapitulate the need for specificity on how the authority will be exercised.  VACo has suggested that procedures for implementing this authority be vetted through the regulatory process and spell out the metrics through which failure to provide services will be documented; provide for notice to the locality that it risks state oversight and the opportunity for the locality to develop a corrective action plan and demonstrate improvement; allow for the local department and local governing body to appear before the State Board of Social Services; provide for local participation in the development of the plan for reimbursement of the Commonwealth’s expenditures in providing services within the local department; and provide clarity on how withholding of reimbursement for administrative expenditures would be carried out.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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