Dollars and Priorities: The Current Value of a 20-Year-Old Poverty Standard

In this latest installment of our “Dollars and Priorities” series on federal financing of child welfare, our columnists dive into the “look back.”

The look back refers to how the federal government reimburses states to pay for foster care through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. A state needs to establish that children in their care were removed from parents who earn less than the 1996 poverty standard – as codified in the Aid to Families with Dependent Child Program (AFDC) – in order to be eligible for federal dollars.

AFDC has been defunct for 20 years, replaced by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program in a deal struck between the Clinton administration and a Republican-led Congress. Thus the poverty standard attached to IV-E has not been raised, meaning more and more children are ineligible for federal funds.

This, combined with reductions in overall foster care numbers, have meant that states are drawing down less and less money from the feds. This is one of several key factors in the finance reform debate.

In his piece, Sean Hughes argues that advocates should step up and fight to “de-link” funding to the 1996 standard. And, he argues, they should insist the feds maintain the current per-child match, which would open up billions of new dollars to support children who are removed from their homes.

Richard Wexler concedes that conceptually, the link to the 1996 AFDC poverty standards is convoluted. But he sees it as the only existing “brake” on a system that would otherwise continue to be financially incentivized to rip families apart.

Since starting this series we have published a number of commentaries from our readers on the issues – Waivers and Block Grants – that we have covered. Now that we are diving into the look back, we hope that you will also weigh in.

These are tough questions, and ones that deserve a plurality of voices. Please consider adding yours.

Read Hughes here.

Read Wexler here.

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Daniel Heimpel, Publisher, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Daniel Heimpel, Publisher, The Chronicle of Social Change 181 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at dheimpel@fosteringmediaconnections.org.