The Pennsylvania legislature is currently considering budget changes that, among other things, would increase the cost of background checks in the state. The change would affect employers in the state that go through the state police department to run their criminal background checks. It would also authorize the state’s Department of Human Services to increase how much they charge for child abuse clearance checks.
Per a report from PennLive, the changes would be significant. Currently, both the state police criminal check and the Department of Human Services child abuse check cost $8 per check. Even employers running both checks for every hire they make only spend $16 per employee. However, if the new budget legislation goes through, the state police check will see a 275% increase, to $22. The DHS child abuse clearance check would see a smaller jump in price, but would still increase from $8 to $13. The budget proposal came from the office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
The PennLive article looked specifically at how the fee hikes would affect Pennsylvania’s child care industry. Child advocates from groups such as the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance and the Center for Children’s Justice were especially critical of the $5 increase for child abuse clearances. Angela Liddle, the CEO of the Family Support Alliance, said it was “unfortunate” that the state was looking to make up revenue by charging more for “something that helps protect kids.” Cathleen Palm, the founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, echoed Liddle’s concerns. “It seems important to avoid imposing any hurdles to obtaining [child abuse clearance checks],” she said.
Both Liddle and Palm were concerned that even a small hike in price for child abuse clearances could make it more difficult for daycares or child care workers to afford them. As such, both women worry that the added cost could result in fewer people having the kinds of clearances that are necessary to keep children safe.
A spokesperson for Governor Wolf downplayed the concerns, noting that Pennsylvania’s current child abuse clearance fee is lower than it is in most other states. In fact, the Governor’s office consulted a survey about clearance check fees in other states before building this budget proposal. The survey reviewed 18 other states and found that the average cost for child abuse clearance fees is $18.
Pennsylvania’s state police criminal checks were also cheaper than what is standard in other parts of the country. Across all 50 states, the average state police background check fee was $25—higher than both Pennsylvania’s existing $8 charge and the proposed $22 fee.
While Wolf’s budget seeks to make up revenues where possible, at least one part of Pennsylvania’s background check fee structure wouldn’t change. Currently, both the state police and the Department of Human Services waive their background check fees for individuals who need them for volunteer positions. Even if the new budget is approved, volunteers would still not be expected to pay for background checks.