In a report that came out this week, California State Auditor Elaine Howle found that Yolo County “has substantially subsidized segments of the (ORR) program,” based on an examination of the Yolo County’s May 2018 budget proposal indicating “its past budgets did not include all costs for housing unaccompanied children.”
As we learned in 2017, Yolo County “has an agreement with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (Refugee Resettlement) to house in its juvenile detention facility individuals under 18 years old who have no lawful immigration status in the United States and no parent or guardian in the country to provide care and physical custody (unaccompanied children).”
They estimate: “Yolo County might have spent approximately $700,000 more than it received from Refugee Resettlement in fiscal year 2017–18 to pay for some of the program’s costs.”
The auditor recommends: “To ensure that it receives funding to fully pay for the costs of housing unaccompanied children for Refugee Resettlement, Yolo County should identify all allowable costs and include them in its future budget requests to Refugee Resettlement.”
As of August 15, 2018, the Yolo Juvenile Facility was one of only two secure care facilities in the country—facilities that provide the strictest level of supervision among institutions that house unaccompanied children.
Despite these findings, the Board of Supervisors recently voted to extend the contract with ORR to house unaccompanied refugee minors at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Center.
They cited improvements to rates of injuries and low morale after ORR had provided additional funding to increase staffing. A year earlier, then-Chief Probation Officer Brent Cardall recommended that the staff terminate the contract, but the county supervisors instead directed him to negotiate for additional funding, in order to increase staff.
The result was around $2 million in new funds, which enabled the county to bring in more detention officers, social workers and clinicians.
The audit report notes: “Because of cost and safety concerns stemming from housing unaccompanied children for Refugee Resettlement at the Yolo Juvenile Facility, Yolo County requested an increase in program funding and staffing.”
Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, Yolo County received somewhere between $1.2 million to $2.8 million annually to run the program, but it failed to include “all allowable costs in its proposed program budgets.”
The auditor notes that the program is meant to be “entirely federally funded.” Instead, Yolo County “expended county funds for services that it was unaware could have been paid for with federal funds, such as certain contractual and indirect costs, including education, medical and behavioral health services, programming, and administrative costs.”
They find: “Yolo County might have spent approximately $700,000 just to pay for contractual and indirect costs that it previously did not include in its budget and that could have been funded by Refugee Resettlement.”
Thus in October 2018, after negotiations, “Yolo County requested an additional $2 million for staffing increases and some costs that the county previously absorbed.”
But the auditor believes even with the increase in the budget, “the budget increase does not fully represent costs for the following: certain public safety activities related to a Refugee Resettlement child who is criminally charged while in custody, a portion of medical services funded by the county to serve Refugee Resettlement children, and some indirect costs.”
The auditor concludes: “Yolo County stated that it would fully assess and include all costs required to fund the program in future proposals to Refugee Resettlement. According to the chief fiscal administrative officer at the Yolo County Probation Department, although Yolo County has not received an official response from Refugee Resettlement, the federal grant system shows that Yolo County’s budget increased by the requested $2 million. As of February 2019, Yolo County continues to house unaccompanied children for Refugee Resettlement.”
They recommend: “To ensure that it receives adequate funding to pay for the costs of housing unaccompanied children for Refugee Resettlement, Yolo County should identify all allowable costs and include them in its future budget requests to Refugee Resettlement.”
In their response dated February 8, 2019, the new Chief Probation Officer Dan Fruchtenict noted that Yolo does “receive a grant award from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide secure placement beds.”
He also notes that to date, “Yolo has not received any youth separated from their family as a result of ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy. Rather the youth placed in Yolo County were unaccompanied at the time they entered the United States.”
Mr. Fruchtenict notes the recommendation from the auditor’s report was “to identify all allowable costs and include them in its future budget requests to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).”
However, he noted, “Yolo County was previously informed by the ORR designee that care provider budgets were held to a $3 million dollar capped grant award.” He adds, “Through additional negotiations with ORR, Yolo County was informed all identified costs incurred by the program could be claimed in the program budget; therefore, Yolo County requested and received a mid-year supplemental grant award for the 2018/2019 grant year that increased our budget cap to ensure program costs were funded.”
The result is the 2019-20 grant year is fully funded “for all anticipated costs” and they will continue to “actively evaluate the methodology of this budget…”
—David M. Greenwald reporting