With Child Welfare, Congress Always Wants to Rob Peter to Pay Paul

An edited version of this column has been reprinted with the permission of the Child Welfare League of America.

It happened again, just before Congress left for the summer break on July 31, Congress gave children in foster care their heartfelt support but were much more limited in their financial support.

In blocking passage of the child welfare bill, HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act,’ Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) offered several criticisms of the bill but he used a not uncommon issue when it comes to child welfare federal spending:

“Lastly, the spending in this bill largely occurs in the first three years, while the reductions in mandatory spending do not provide savings until the second half of the ten year window. As a result this bill violates budget point of order 302(f) because it exceeds Senate Finance Committee allocation under the Ryan-Murray Budget.”

In fact, this child welfare bill is paid for and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said it actually generates savings over ten years. But the juxtaposition of members of Congress making sweeping statements of concern and support for children and youth in foster care, while only passing legislation that is offset (paid for) by cuts in other child welfare programs or in other human services, is not new.

In late April of this year, the House Ways and Means Committee passed six tax bills in the same hearing when they passed HR 4058 the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (the same bill delayed in the Senate).

The tax bills extended several business-related tax deductions and cost more than $300 billion over ten years and the costs were not offset. The child welfare legislation not only had to be paid for, but a section of the bill was pulled because it would cost approximately $1 million a year.

The section in question required states to provide certain documents such as birth certificates and Social Security numbers to youth leaving foster care.

Another incongruity is that while Washington is increasingly demanding that human service programs offer rigorous evaluation or evidence-based practices that demonstrate they have their intended impact, no one is arguing that tax credits designed to promote job creation undergo any evaluations, let alone evidence-based results.

One of the ongoing challenges of the current and recent discussion of “finance reform” of the way we address child abuse and child welfare services is that it is predicated on a “cost-neutral” basis because there is no money. The challenge is what we can cut in one part of child welfare before we fund what is needed in another part of child welfare services.

At a recent national preschool meeting, someone offered up a joke about how we could fully fund preschool by cutting off funding for teenagers in the last year of K-12 education.

It was a joke, but at times it seems like a reality for child welfare.

John Sciamanna is the co-director of government affairs at the Child Welfare League of America.

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  1. When you can rob Peter to pay Paul, you will always get Paul’s vote. We all need to tighten our belts and look for other creative ways to deal with problems in our communities. Government is not always the solution to the problem.

  2. The adoption incentives in HR 4980 don’t support all foster kids, only the ones that do need families. CPS sometimes takes kids just in case, then does an investigation. There are also kids taken from families that have solvable problems. CPS does not need more incentives to keep these kids in the system, in the hopes of adopting them and getting their bonuses. My own nephew, then 3 and a half, was taken after his baby brother died in his sleep, and was given to a prospective adoptive family even before the autopsy was finished. The family had applied to the county for a child to adopt. An aunt who wanted to adopt him was turned down. She was later approved by another CPS office as a foster parent. My nephew was never allowed to see his family after he was taken. His brother died and he was put with strangers, without any comfort from friends, family, and pets. What must he have been thinking?

    I don’t agree with Mr. Sciamanna that this bill wouldn’t be costly. The kids who are traumatized from being taken from their families and friends with no cause may take a long time to recover, if at all. They know their families weren’t bad, after all. This includes genuinely abused kids who are put in foster care rather than with relatives. From their perspective, what’s to prevent them from being taken from their new families? This must give them a warped view of the world, to find that it’s completely okay to take a child from his family just because someone in an office has decided on it. This bill will reinforce the view that some in CPS take, of kids as commodities.

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