Democratic supporters of a federal home visiting program are ticked off about the reauthorization bill introduced by several Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee this month.
That bill – H.R. 2824, authored by Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), chair of the Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources – would maintain the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program at $400 million annually through 2022. But it would also mandate increasing local cost-sharing over time, and require programs to demonstrate continuous improvements in outcomes.
Advocates for MIECHV had met recently with key staff from both parties, and have been pushing for an expansion of the program’s authorization to $800 million.
“Very disappointing,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), in an e-mail to Youth Services Insider. “After joining us repeatedly in recognizing the successes of home visiting, Republicans propose flat funding with new impediments and a faulty offset.”
The offset Doggett refers to is the bill’s second title, which prohibits the collection of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to anyone who meets two criteria:
- Has an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony
- Has an outstanding arrest warrant for violating a condition of prohibition or parole imposed under federal or state law, effective one year after enactment
Home visiting programs pair health or parenting professionals with new and expectant mothers to better prepare them for raising children. MIECHV, part of the Affordable Care Act package signed into law in 2010, was established as a federal investment in certain home visiting models.
The program has survived on last-minute funding extensions since 2014, and has been praised by members of both parties. Diedra Spires, who helps coordinate the Home Visiting Coalition, told Youth Services Insider that the coalition was blindsided by the bill, which includes no Democrat co-sponsors and includes provisions never discussed with the coalition.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, criticized the House Republicans for going alone and joined Doggett in opposing the offset.
“This is a program with a history of strong bipartisan support, which is why I’m exceptionally troubled by the bill the House Republicans have put together,” said Wyden, in an e-mail to YSI. “Their bill would pit one disadvantaged group against another and pay for it by bringing back a cruel policy that took crucial support from the elderly and Americans with disabilities. Simply put, this bill is a nonstarter with anyone who cares about this successful program and wants to see it continue.”
When the GOP bill was introduced, YSI noted with interest that Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) had not signed on as a co-sponsor. Reichert, who once chaired the human resources subcommittee, has been among the Ways and Means Committee’s most vocal member on child welfare issues.
We reached out to Reichert’s office for comment on the bill. A statement, offered by communications director Breanna Deutsch, suggests to us that he has some concerns:
“The Committee is currently listening to stakeholders and receiving feedback on the recently introduced legislation,” said the statement from Deutsch. “Congressman Reichert looks forward to reviewing those comments and working with his colleagues on the committee to ensure MIECHV is strengthened and continued.”