Now, proponents of the child welfare finance reform package are setting their sights on a legislative Hail Mary: attaching Family First to the continuing resolution (CR) appropriations bill that will fund the federal government through March or April of 2017.
“We need your help with contacting your Members of Congress this week and asking them to include the Family First Prevention Services Act in the continuing budget resolution,” wrote Laura Boyd, policy director for the Family Focused Treatment Association, in an e-mail to colleagues that included model call-in and write-in language.
As far as Youth Services Insider can tell, there is no movement afoot in the House to do this yet. We have heard from staff close to Family First that some of the bill’s co-sponsors have asked Senate Appropriations Committee leaders to attach Family First to the CR.
Even the most fervent supporter of such a move would have to concede that it is extremely unlikely because the general procedural rules prohibit legislating on an appropriations bill. This protects the necessary business of funding the government, which Congress struggles with anyway, from getting mucked up with other legislative interests.
But it is a rule, not a law. Just by way of example, in 2008, the $25 billion loan program to bail out the auto industry was tacked onto a spending bill signed by President George W. Bush.
First Focus President Bruce Lesley, who spent more than a decade as a policy staffer in the Senate, said in an e-mail to YSI that “the barrier is high to get language added to CRs or omnibus packages.” But he said he also believes Family First is one of those rare cases where appropriators could and should consider it.
“If there is bipartisan sign-off from authorizing committees, leadership, and evidence of overwhelming support in both chambers, appropriators will then (and only then) potentially agree to add such measures to their package,” Lesley said. “It is a very difficult bar to reach, but this legislation is, as you know, pretty close to that.”
The House did overwhelmingly vote the bill in over the summer, but that case might be harder to prove in the Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a chief architect of Family First, said the bill would easily pass if it ever got a floor vote. But there is significant opposition to it at the Senate Finance Committee, where Wyden is the ranking Democrat and where Family First was never actually marked up and passed.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), seemingly spurred on by a social media campaign in his state against the bill, wrote a note to Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisc.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) opposing Family First’s attachment to the Cures Act. Ryan has publicly supported passage of Family First.
“This could leave these neglected children without a place to call home, all because of Congress’ haste to pass legislation before the end of the year without considering its impact,” the letter said.
Burr is on the Senate Finance Committee, and he was allegedly joined on the letter by three other Senate Finance Republicans: Dan Coats (Ind.), Pat Toomey (Penn.) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.).
The North Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics reached out to Burr today, urging him to reconsider and help attach the bill to the continuing resolution. The letter, signed by chapter president Scott St. Clair, argues that Burr’s criticism of the bill is unfounded:
Congregate care remains one of the options on the continuum, and the bill does not impose time limits or restrictions on the use of these settings for children who need them, but the focus is on keeping families together. The only changes this bill makes for congregate care providers is raising the standards for quality, so that all children in these settings benefit from the therapeutic value of the best providers, of which we have several in North Carolina.
The odds are against Family First, but it is not surprising to see this advocacy push at the end. The legislation was years in the making, and with other looming child welfare priorities coming up next year, it’s hard to imagine leaders on the bill will have an appetite to do this all again.
The continuing resolution is the last train leaving the legislative station this year, Lesley said in his e-mail, “so we are making every effort to be on board.”