Proponents of a bill to extend flexible funding waivers for child welfare services in some states are looking for a member of Congress willing to lead the charge in the House of Representatives.
The legislation would permit states and counties that currently have waivers to Title IV-E of the Social Security Act – the entitlement that pays for foster care and adoption – to keep those in place until 2021. That would give waiver states a two-year bridge before having to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act, which goes into effect in October 2019.
A bill has already been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Proponents of the delay for waiver states have been looking for a House member to line up bicameral support for the extension. Los Angeles County, the largest local system with a Title IV-E waiver, has led the campaign for a waiver extension and has retained D.C. lobbying firm The Sheridan Group to push it on Capitol Hill.
“We are very hopeful that there will be a House bill … and predict there will be a lot of sponsors,” said Bobby Cagle, director of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Families Services, at a meeting held this week by the L.A. Commission for Children and Families.
The Family First Act permits child welfare agencies to use federal funds to provided certain services aimed at preventing children from entering into foster care. But it also restricts federal funding for group homes and other “congregate care” placements to two weeks, with some notable exceptions for accredited clinical models of care and providers serving niche populations. [Click here for a complete guide to the Family First Act].
Several state and local child welfare agencies operating Title IV-E waivers pushed back against Family First before it passed, claiming that the shift would cost systems millions of dollars. Early opponents to Family First included California and New York – both states with county-run systems and large waiver projects – and Florida, which has operated under a statewide waiver since 2005.
One member who has been approached as a possible bill author on the house side is Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and represents a large swathe of L.A. County. Bass’ office did not comment when asked this week if she intended to lead on the waiver bill.
Bass supported the Family First Act. She has also authored successful legislation in recent years to force child welfare agencies and schools to communicate better, and to close a loophole limiting the Medicaid eligibility of youth who age out of foster care.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Wash.), an original architect of the Family First Act along with former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), appears open to the idea of a bridge for waiver states.
“Sen. Wyden’s priority is to make sure that all states have the support necessary to continue the good work they are doing for foster kids,” said Nicole L’Esperance, press secretary for Wyden, in an email to YSI. “We expect this proposal to be one of many offered as we continue to explore the best path forward to address the concerns of waiver states and help with implementation of Family First.”
During the meeting in L.A. this week, Cagle urged commissioners to use any influence they have with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who represents San Francisco, one of the counties covered by California’s IV-E waiver.
“One of the keys to this could be Speaker Pelosi,” Cagle said. “We would appreciate any kind of influence you have with her being used.”
There has been speculation that the waiver extension could be introduced as part of the next attempt to either fund the government for the year or pass another continuing resolution. The current temporary spending measure will expire on February 15.
Daniel Heimpel contributed to this article.
Learn more about the federal rule change to provide legal representation to children and parents involved in the child welfare system in our exclusive webinar, A New Era of Funding Family Justice, with Leslie Heimov and Vivek Sankaran on Feb. 21st. Hosted by John Kelly, Editor-in-Chief for The Chronicle of Social Change.