Yesterday, Youth Services Insider hit on the two no-brainer pieces of legislation that Congress should get moving this year when it comes to youth services. Today, we look at the longer list of bills and policies to watch as Washington prepares for what will surely be a tumultuous fiscal 2018.
Last week President Trump announced he would shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, phasing it out by March 6, 2018. But Trump also indicated a preference for Congress to move fast to create a program to replace DACA, which allows nearly 800,000 undocumented young people to legally work or stay in school.
There are currently several pieces of pending immigration-reform legislation, including the bi-partisan Dream Act. Introduced in the Senate in July by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), it would create a pathway to permanent legal status for about a million young people as long as they met several criteria, including graduating high school; passing security checks; and either pursuing higher education, working for at least three years or serving in the military.
Previous efforts at finding a legislative solution to immigration reform have faltered before, most notably in 2010 and 2012. Unless Congress acts now, 800,000 young people who arrived in the U.S. as children will be eligible for deportation.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
Reauthorization of the law that set basic national standards for the treatment of juveniles is 10 years overdue. For the first time in that decade, both chambers have approved legislation, so it falls to a conference committee to hammer out an agreement that both chambers will sign off on.
Both versions of the bill dust off the federal law with new definitions of juvenile justice terminology, and require more data collection and reporting to the Justice Department on things like use of restraints and isolation. Both bills ratchet up the reporting requirements on compliance monitoring by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; restart the effort to develop a national recidivism measure; and make it more difficult to lock up juveniles tried as adults in non-juvenile settings.
Among the key differences that the conference committee will need to work out:
- Phase-out of the valid court order exception, the only loophole in federal standards for locking up a status offender. The Senate scuttled this in its final version to accommodate a lone dissenter on the subject.
- Block Grant: The House wants to repeal the existing structure and replace it with a community-based violence prevention grant program, modeled on the Youth PROMISE Act that has been long-championed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
- Audits: Both the House and Senate want a yearly audit from the Inspector General on JJDPA grantees. The House wants all grantees subject to audit in a three-year period; the Senate favors a sample approach that hones in on the biggest grants and grantees that have had problems before.
Any Health Care Bill, Especially One with Medicaid
Any legislation that rewrites the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has tremendous implications for youth services if the bill includes significant changes to Medicaid.
In child welfare, any child who is in foster care or is adopted from foster care has a guarantee of Medicaid coverage. And the ACA also extended automatic Medicaid eligibility for former foster youth until the age of 26.
All of the House and Senate versions of reform maintained the ACA guarantee to age 26 for former foster youth. But Early, Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment — the central promise of health assistance for foster youth and other Medicaid-eligible children — became optional in one of the House health care proposals.
And even if the number of guarantees to foster youth doesn’t change, the quality of those guarantees — what Medicaid would provide for these youth — could be affected by shifting Medicaid to a block grant, or by reversing the expansion of Medicaid.
There is no Medicaid guarantee involved in juvenile justice; in fact, youth who have been adjudicated and incarcerated are categorically ineligible for Medicaid while behind bars. But many states tap into Medicaid funds to forge contracts for non-incarceration services, especially interventions focused on the behavioral health of offenders.
Family First Prevention Services Act
Family First was the hot topic in federal child welfare policy in 2015 and 2016. The bill originated with Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) desire to expand the federal foster care entitlement to include time-limited services for biological parents, combined with Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) interest in limiting federal funds for congregate care.
The bill overwhelmingly passed in the House, but died in the Senate. It surely would have passed a floor vote, but that was not forthcoming, and the holds placed on Family First by a handful of Senators prevented unanimous consent.
The sense after last year’s defeat was that there was no energy, or time, to try again on Family First with Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) on the horizon and a new presidential administration coming into town. But there has been talk of a renewed effort to pass it, and the legislation has been reintroduced in both chambers.
“Skinny” Family First Package
The big ticket items in Family First are expanding the entitlement, projected to cost more than $1 billion, and the congregate care limits, projected to save several hundred million. The whole thing washed out from a budget neutrality standpoint with the addition of a delay to some federal adoption incentives promised by the Fostering Connections Act in 2008.
Anticipating the possibility that framework won’t be revived, the House has approved five cost-neutral bills that are derivatives of the bigger Family First package. Among the provisions passed by the House this summer:
- Permits states to expand eligibility for the Chafee independent living program to 23, if the state has extended the upper age limit of foster care to 21.
- Requires that states establish an electronic system to expedite foster care and guardianship placements in other states.
- Allows for IV-E reimbursement for foster care payments made on behalf of a child living with their parent in a residential substance abuse facility.
- Renews and sharpens definitions for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Regional Partnership Grants.
- Attempts to put some federal oversight on the standards for foster homes and relative foster homes.
Interstate Placement of Foster Youth
In 2014, five states and the District of Columbia launched the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE) to replace the paper-driven process that has long accompanied moving foster and adoptive youth across state lines.The results have been immediate; delays in the processing of interstate placements have dropped dramatically in the ensuing years. The House has passed H.R. 2742, a bill entitled the Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act, which would require each state to adopt NEICE or a comparable system by 2026. A companion bill in the Senate, S. 1257, awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.The bills set aside $5 million a year between 2017 and 2021 for a grant program to help states move toward this goal.
Mental Health Timelines
Unaccompanied Alien Children Program
Over the summer, the House Judiciary Committee marked up and passed a bill that would dramatically change the way the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program operates. The program is operated by HHS, and is the only truly national child welfare system we have in the United States.
Housing After Foster Care
Federal Funds and Service Provider Selectivity
This summer, Texas became the most recent state to pass bills that protect faith-based child welfare providers who state a religious opposition to serving certain households (namely, LGBT couples and unmarried people).
- The aforementioned Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program, which it slated for a $450 million haircut in 2018.
- The House zeroed out funds related to compliance with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which as mentioned above is long overdue for reauthorization.