Health and Human Services Still Won’t Say Which States Intend to Delay on Family First Act

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues to deny efforts by The Chronicle of Social Change to obtain the names of states who expressed interest in delaying implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which was passed in 2018 and overhauls the federal child welfare entitlement.

The Chronicle today formally appealed the denial of its request for the states under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Children’s Bureau (CB), a division of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), had set a deadline of November 9 for states to send in a basic form indicating their intention to delay implementation of the law. Family First opens up the Title IV-E entitlement to include spending on efforts to prevent the use of foster care in some child welfare cases, and limits federal funds under IV-E for placement of foster youth in group homes and institutions.

The delay can be for up to two years. It is specifically a delay on the congregate care restrictions, but prohibits a state from taking advantage of the new front-end funds.

The November 9 deadline was essentially optional – states will be able to seek a delay right up until the law takes effect in October. But CB leadership hoped it would indicate the lay of the land on Family First. At a hearing held by the House Ways and Means Committee this summer, CB Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner told legislators that November deadline was strictly for planning purposes.

The Chronicle initially requested the information directly from ACF in mid-November. The agency informed us in an e-mail that “The Children’s Bureau is currently in the process of assessing the information submitted by the states and does not have any additional information to provide at this time.”

We then filed a FOIA request for the information with HHS on November 19. The agency responded with a denial of The Chronicle‘s request in mid-December.

“The Children’s Bureau has advised that it does not have the information you are seeking,” the denial said. It then suggests that the form states would have filled out is a “voluntary” one, and that “because it was not mandatory for it to be completed, we do not have a list of states that requested this delay.”

Several states, including Florida and Ohio, have publicly discussed plans to delay Family First implementation. Some states with current waivers on their IV-E funds are seeking legislation that would provide a two-year bridge to Family First where the flexibility included in those waivers remains intact.

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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