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House passes bill requiring DJJ to pay funeral costs for kids who die in state care

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida House unanimously approved a measure requiring the Department of Juvenile Justice to pay $5,000 to the families to help cover the funeral costs for children who die in the state’s care.

The bill (HB 173) was prompted by a dispute last year over funeral costs for Eric Perez, who died on July 10. Guards at a West Palm Beach DJJ facility waited more than six hours before calling 911 after Perez began vomiting, hallucinating and complaining of severe headaches, according to official reports of the incident.

In August, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office denied a payment to a funeral home to cover the costs of Perez’s funeral after initially approving the request from DJJ. Atwater’s staff told DJJ to cancel it because the agency lacked the authority for the payment, although DJJ has had a policy for at least two years to provide up to $5,000 for funeral costs of children who die while in their custody whose families are indigent.

The House unanimously approved the measure, which would put the agency’s policy into law and avoid disputes that arose over Perez’s funeral payment.

The Senate has yet to send an identical measure (SB 504) to the floor for a vote.

Atwater will reissue check for funeral expenses for teen who died in DJJ care

Monday, August 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Monday he will sign off on a $5,000 payment to cover funeral expenses for Eric Perez, an 18-year-old who died in state custody in West Palm Beach on July 10.

The Palm Beach Post and The Miami Herald reported this weekend that Atwater blocked the payment. His office told Department of Juvenile Justice officials they lacked statutory authority for the payment although the agency has had a policy for two years to pay up to $5,000 for funeral costs of children who die while in their custody and has issued the payments twice before.

On Monday, Atwater blamed Department of Juvenile Justice officials for what he called “a tragic delay” in a press release Monday afternoon. Atwater promised to send a check to the Perez family’s attorney within 48 hours.

“Regrettably, this tragic delay would not have occurred if the Department of Juvenile Justice had not blatantly ignored guidance from my office,” Atwater said in the release. “In the future, I would hope that DJJ would be more transparent in its dealings with the public and with taxpayer monies.”

CFO Atwater stops payment for funeral costs for teen who died in DJJ custody in Palm Beach County

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office has blocked a payment to cover the costs of the funeral of Eric Perez, the 18-year-old who died while in state custody in a Palm Beach County juvenile detention facility on July 10.

The Department of Juvenile Justice had promised to pay $5,000 towards the cost of Perez’ funeral, as it has done twice before in the past two years.

Atwater, in charge of the state’s check book, had gone so far as to print a $5,000 check for Tillman Funeral Home in West Palm Beach on July 13.

But before DJJ officials released it to the funeral home, Atwater’s office asked that the money be returned.

“Since the agency does not have statutory authority to make the payment, we are requesting a warrant cancellation for the following vendor payment,” Mark Merry, head of the Department of Financial Services auditing department, wrote to DJJ in an e-mail on Tuesday.

DJJ has had a policy of paying up to $5,000 towards funeral costs for children who die in their custody since 2008, department spokesman C.J. Drake said. Since then, the department has twice paid families the maximum amount – once in November 2008 and again in January 2009.

Discussions are now underway between the two agencies about how the payment can be made, Drake said.

“So far everyone’s been very cooperative and agreeable. We just have to resolve it. I’m confident that we’re going to make the payment,” he said.

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