Home Visiting Hearing Is a Bipartisan Lovefest; Spending Not Discussed

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources convened a hearing today on reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV), which was enacted under the Affordable Care Act to fund state efforts to pair new or expecting parents with professionals using approved, evidence-based models.

The hearing suggests what stakeholders knew going in: The program has genuine bipartisan support, and there will be a bill to reauthorize MIECHV in short order from the Ways and Means Committee. Youth Services Insider heard last year from sources close to the Senate Finance Committee that MIECHV will also be a child welfare priority for that chamber.

The main lingering question is: Will these reauthorization bills include a fiscal expansion of the program?

MIECHV funding escalated to $400 million per year under the Affordable Care Act, and has been saved at the bell by last minute appropriations of the same level since.

MIECHV advocates, coalescing in the 48-member Home Visiting Coalition, have asked for a five-year reauthorization that would increase MIECHV to $800 million in the fifth year. There was zero discussion of dollar figures at this hearing.

“It’s still under consideration, it’s not ruled out,” said Diedra Henry-Spires, co-convener of the coalition, who helped draw up the MIECHV program while working for the Senate Finance Committee. “The issue is paying for it.”

Henry-Spires confirmed that advocates had discussed the prospect of doubling MIECHV with Ways and Means leadership.

“It was not panned, it’s widely known we want to build capacity,” she said. “They seem to share that desire. If finding a pay-for weren’t an issue, I think it’s something they’d support with great ease.”

Today’s hearing featured testimony from Beth Russell, a nurse home visitor from Pennsylvania, and Rosa Valentin, a 16-year-old who is one of Russell’s clients. Valentin got pregnant at age 14, and said she relied on Russell for support and advice during and after her pregnancy.

“She has been there for me emotionally, sometimes just as a listening ear for venting, or to provide suggestions on dealing with stressful situations so that I can get back to being the mom I needed and wanted to be,” Valentin said.  “Beth was also very helpful when I was worried about Angelica’s weight because others thought she was too small or if she was learning things at the right pace.”

According to Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), Valentin is the youngest person ever to testify for the Ways and Means Committee.

The committee also heard from Eric Bellamy, the home visiting manager for the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, and Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and first lady of Illinois. Both testified to the significant impact MIECHV has had on improving the quality and reach of home visiting in their respective states.

“Nearly 1,000 families got more than 12,000 visits because of MIECHV” in fiscal 2016, Rauner said. The program also funded “additional training of home visitors, regardless of their model and funding source.”

Bellamy noted that MIECHV had helped “underpin the statewide foundation” for home visiting by “allowing for the creation of data collection systems and training for home visitors.” He also noted that philanthropic entities had poured more funds into the state’s home visiting network since MIECHV was established.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1210 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.