Election Night 2018: Impact On Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice and Other Youth Issues

The votes are in! America voted in potentially record numbers yesterday for a midterm election season. As a result, control of the House of Representatives has changed, 20 states will have new governors, and myriad ballot initiatives were approved and rejected.

Following are some initial notes from Youth Services Insider on how yesterday’s elections could affect youth and family policy on the federal and state levels.

Congress

The biggest outcome of the midterms is that the leadership of House committees will turn over to the Democrats. A few notes on the committees that most impact youth and family services.

Ways and Means: Powerful in many ways, this committee has oversight over implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which passed with bipartisan support from the committee. The law offers states federal reimbursement for services aimed at preventing the use of foster care in some situations, and also limits the use of federal funds to pay for group homes and other congregate care settings.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is one of the four Democrats currently on the Human Resources Subcommittee at Ways and Means. An original co-sponsor of Family First, Doggett was clearly dismayed that the scope of the law was narrowed to constrain its price tag. He will now have an elevated voice in the accountability process as Family First moves from passed law to implemented policy at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Judiciary: This committee has run point on crafting and marking up Republican plans for immigration reform, including an overhaul of the controversial Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program.

Through UAC, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) receives custody of Central American youth arriving without parents at the border in search of asylum. The program has been under scrutiny since the number of unaccompanied minors surged in 2014, and really became a focal point when the Trump administration began to actually “create” unaccompanied minors with its woefully misled family separation policy.

The gist of the planned UAC overhaul was to give Homeland Security more time to vet asylum claims before handing youth over to HHS, empowering Homeland to turn Central American minors around and send them back home quickly. That plan had no Democratic support in the committee, and presumably is now dead for the time being.

Education and the Workforce: Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) is probably the most staunch advocate for juvenile justice in the House, and he stands to take the gavel for this committee. The House and Senate have both already passed versions of a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), though a final deal has yet to be reached.

But Scott’s juvenile justice has never been the JJPDA. His passion has been garnering federal support to help communities craft, implement and evaluate plans to address and prevent youth violence on the local level. These ideas have been codified in the PROMISE Act legislation he has pushed for years. The JJPDA reauthorization, depending on how it passes, could include a small foothold for future investment along the lines of PROMISE Act. To be continued!

The committee will lose another Democrat with a long-running interest in youth issues: Rep. Jared Polis, who has been elected to be the next governor of Colorado.

Appropriations: At the committee that runs point on annual federal discretionary spending, the two major subcommittees for youth spending are the one covering Commerce/Justice/State and the one covering Health and Human Services. The new chairs of those subcommittees, based on their current composition, could be Reps. Jose Serrano (N.Y.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.).

The leadership of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus all won re-election, with the exception of one member that is leaving Congress (Diane Black, R-Tenn.).

Among the Senate’s foster youth caucus, co-chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) hung on to her seat, defeating Republican challenger John James. One member of the caucus was unseated: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who lost to challenger Kevin Kramer (R).

A final youth services note: Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who lost his seat last night to Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (D), was the Senate Republican co-sponsor on a bill to incentivize the hiring of current and former foster youth. The Improved Employment Outcomes For Foster Youth Act would add those young people as an eligible group for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

The concept is born of a work partnership forged by the California nonprofit iFoster and Raley’s, a California-based supermarket chain. The program has expanded to include Starbucks, manufacturer Mondelez International and other partners.

Heller’s loss doesn’t doom the bill, which advocates are hoping to push in 2019 since WOTC is up for reauthorization next year. It does mean they’ll need a new Republican backer in the Senate.

Governors

There were 36 gubernatorial contests last night, and 20 states will have new governors as a result of those elections. You can expect a turnover in leadership of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in many of those states, and probably some of the states with incumbents headed back for another term.

Click here to read Vivek Sankaran’s op-ed in The Chronicle with advice for those new child welfare directors. It is also worth noting that many of these new governors, and their child welfare leadership, will have a short window of time to decide on whether it is in the state’s interest to opt into the aforementioned Family First Act. States are allowed to delay on the law’s limits on congregate care funds for up to two years, with the caveat that a delay prohibits use of the new front-end funds available.

HHS is asking, not requiring, states to indicate their intentions on Family First by the end of this week. That is obviously not realistic for the 20 states where a new governor will be sworn in this January.

One gubernatorial race that could impact juvenile justice reform is Tony Evers’ defeat of Gov. Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin. The state has announced its intention to close two troubled juvenile prisons upstate, and juvenile justice advocates, including Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), have been frustrated with the direction of planning for how that will be replaced. YJM and other advocacy groups would like to see the plan focus on community-based alternatives to incarceration, with minimal new construction of secure facilities.

“Our system needs to find more alternatives for placement instead of looking to put kids behind cages and bars,” YJM co-founder Sharlen Moore told The Chronicle back in April. “We are trying to map what is available already … see what’s successful and start scaling up. There are certain programs that are not even at capacity now.”

Moore and fellow co-founder Jeffrey Roman e-mailed Youth Services Insider today with some thoughts:

We are excited for the opportunity to work with Governor-Elect Evers and Lieutenant Governor Elect Mandela Barnes who are committed to racial justice as well as investing in education. Barnes, especially, has been an ally for our work since his days with the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), a founding and current Youth Justice Milwaukee coalition member.

Passing Act 185, the legislation to close Lincoln Hills, was a major victory, but we believe we can go further in our efforts to create a more just Wisconsin. We look forward to working with Evers and Barnes to properly give young people and impacted communities a seat at the table where they can express their needs and their vision for trauma-informed justice in Milwaukee and the state as a whole.

Ballot Measures

Yesterday we provided a rundown of the state ballot questions and initiatives that carried big consequences for kids. Click here to read that, which is now updated with the results for each measure we highlighted. A few big, thematic takeaways:

Medicaid expansion was approved in three states: Idaho, Nebraska and Utah. Montana voters rejected a plan to fund continued expansion there.

Initiatives providing state constitutional rights to victims of crime – known as Marsy’s Law – were on the ballot in six states, and all six approved them. This brings the total of Marsy’s Law states to nine. Juvenile justice advocates have voiced concern about unintended consequences on the system from these amendments, which guarantee victims access to most or all legal proceedings.

The tobacco industry spent big to fight off two ballot measures that would have used increased tobacco taxes to continue expanded Medicaid (in Montana) and expand and upgrade technical school capacity (in South Dakota).

It is also worth noting something we left out of that column: Arkansas passed an increase in the minimum wage (from $8.50 to $11 by 2021), as did Missouri (from $7.85 to $12 by 2023). Recent research has suggested that increases in the minimum wage are associated with reductions in child maltreatment.

What did we miss? E-mail info@chronicleofsocialchange.org if you have additional thoughts on specific Election Day outcomes that will affect vulnerable youth and families. 

Correction: This column originally reported that Rep. Karen Bass was not up for reelection this year. Bass was up, and easily won re-election last night.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 973 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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