Family First Act, Major Foster Care Finance Reform Bill, Included in House’s Initial Spending Deal

A continuing appropriations bill released last night by House Republican leadership includes enactment of the Family First Prevention Services Act, a bill that failed to pass the Senate in 2016 and would significantly alter the federal entitlement for child welfare services.

The Family First Act permits time-limited services aimed at preventing the need for foster care in cases of maltreatment that stems from drug abuse, mental health challenges or a lack of parenting skills. States could seek reimbursement for services to address the issues for up to 12 months under Title IV-E, an entitlement that is currently structured only to fund payments for foster care.

The act also limits federal reimbursements for foster youth who are placed in congregate care settings. Under Family First, after two weeks of a group setting, a state would need to pay for the placement itself, although several wide exceptions for continued federal participation are written into the law.

The Family First Act, first drafted by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is back in play in the House spending bill

Several states, including California and New York, raised objections to Family First in part because of the changes to congregate care funding. The House spending bill offers a two-year delay on the congregate care limitations to any state, with the caveat that the time-limited front end assistance would not kick in until the end of that delay.

To offset the cost of Family First, the spending bill puts off an expansion of the federal IV-E adoption assistance program. That program was set to cover all infants and young children who are adopted from foster care; right now, it only covers some, based on income eligibility. The spending bill delays this expansion until 2024.

Family First would also reauthorize the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act, a family preservation-oriented section of the Title IV-B block grant given to states. This funding would no longer be time limited (it currently has a 12-month clock), meaning states could concentrate it on longer-term efforts to serve families while using the new IV-E carve-out to do short-term assistance.

Assuming the House moves this bill, it would then fall to the Senate to adopt similar language on Family First or approve the House version. Advocates close to the process say it would likely take broad opposition from Senators to pull the Family First language out; when the bill moved on its own in 2016, when leadership sought unanimous consent, the process was held up by a small group of Senators.

The bill is sure to come up during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s hearing on the impact of the opioid crisis on children and families. That hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m.

The Family First Act was originally co-authored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the party leaders on the Senate Finance Committee. The bill was never marked up by that committee, and never passed the Senate, but has been passed twice by the House after a markup by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Family First section of the spending bill begins on page 357 of this document. Click here to read The Chronicle‘s coverage of Family First and other federal finance reform efforts.

If you are interested in federal juvenile justice and child welfare policy, read our special issue “Kids on the Hill.” Just hit this LINK

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at