Hotline Open on Family First Act

Senate leadership on the Family First Prevention Services Act have launched a last-minute effort to pass the child welfare finance reform bill before the Senate recesses for the summer on Friday, July 15.

Through a process called hotlining, leaders will seek unanimous consent for the bill this week. At any point in the coming days, any single Senator can raise an objection and hold the bill.

The act will for the first time permit states to spend federal IV-E entitlement money on mental health, substance abuse and parenting services, all aimed at reducing the need for foster care. As presently constituted, IV-E supplies funds only for foster care-related services.

The bill would also restrict the use of federal funds when it comes to congregate care settings. With a few notable exceptions, federal dollars for group placements dry up after two weeks.

If nobody objects to Family First, the bill moves to President Obama’s desk for signature. As Youth Services Insider noted last week, the administration has not taken a public position on the bill, but the president will almost certainly sign it.

If any single Senator holds up the bill, that’s it for this summer. The next opportunity will start seven weeks later, when the Senate returns to session.

The bill’s fate this summer likely resides in the opinions of four Democratic senators: Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, and Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York.

The state child welfare agencies in both of those states have publicly opposed the act as it is presently written, directly asking their Senators to stop the legislation.

Neither state agency objects to the preservation services, though letters from both expressed some doubt that the new structure would yield many new dollars for the state. Both agencies expressed belief that they had already advanced plans to reduce the use of congregate care, and stand to jeopardize those plans with the changes brought on by Family First.

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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