Congresswoman Karen Bass Still Hopeful About Family First Act

Rep. Karen Bass, far left, with DCFS Director Philip Browning, SEIU Treasurer David Green, and other guests during the Friday town hall.
Rep. Karen Bass, far left, with DCFS Director Philip Browning, SEIU Treasurer David Green, and other guests during the Friday town hall.

On Friday, one of Congress’ top child welfare advocates came to Los Angeles to pitch an all-but-dead federal bill that would change how foster care is financed.

During a town hall in the cavernous City of Refuge Church in Gardena, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) argued that despite its problems the Family First Act was still alive and needed.

“Come with me to Washington D.C., and I will show you some sausage,” Bass said to a crowd dominated by clients of SHIELDS for Families, a non-profit that provides services to families who would otherwise be involved in the child welfare system.

“When legislation is done there are ingredients you don’t like,” Bass continued. “There were things put in the legislation that California was not particularly excited about. And California was also upset because they didn’t feel like they were involved enough in the bill. But, if you tell everyone what is in the sausage they will pick it apart.”

Among the local child welfare leaders sharing the stage with Bass sat the children’s deputies for two Los Angeles County Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors, the California Department of Social Services, the County Welfare Directors Association and the Alliance for Children’s Rights were part of a concerted effort to see Family First amended.

Family First would have time-limited federal funds used to reimburse state foster care systems for children and youth placed in group homes, and would have used those savings an other offsets to pay for an increased array of foster care prevention services.

California’s advocates and administrators argued that current state-wide reforms aimed at reducing group home utilization were sufficient. In addition, Angie Schwartz of the Alliance for Children’s Right argued against the mechanics of the law, pointing out that one provision would create an unfair burden on family members taking care of kin, while parents received substance or mental abuse treatment.

This pushback came after the House Ways and Means Committee had introduced and quickly pushed the bill through the House. Once in the Senate, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) placed holds on the bill.

And on September 29, when the Senate adjourned so lawmakers could focus on elections, it seemed that Family First was surely dead.

But during the Friday town hall, Bass said that Congressional staffers were working furiously on the bill and hoped to re-introduce it in the second week of November when Congress reconvenes. Plan B, she said, would be to reintroduce in January, after a new president is elected.

In either case, Bass said that she believes federal child welfare administrators when they say they can fix the problems with Family First that gave some Senators and California child welfare leaders pause.

“What is going to happen happen when we have our next president, given that I am confident about who it will be – especially if you watch the TV and it [the election] gets wilder and wilder?” Bass said. “There will be changes in the administration, but philosophically I don’t think that it will be different. But even if it changes philosophically, Madame President has huge history on this issue, which only increases my confidence.”

At that point she urged the crowd to call their lawmakers in support of the law.

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Daniel Heimpel
About Daniel Heimpel 172 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.