Family First Act’s Prospects Likely in Hands of Four Senators

The last time California and New York were involved in a high-profile beef, Tupac and Biggie ended up dead. This time, the two states are united in an effort to kill a federal child welfare finance reform bill that both states believe will fiscally hurt their systems.

In question is the Family First Prevention Services Act, a bipartisan bill that would drastically alter the Title IV-E entitlement by including funding for certain services aimed at preventing the use of foster care, and by restricting the use of federal funds for most congregate care.

The bill whisked through the House, but will it get through the Senate before the summer recess in eight days? Here is where things stand, based on Youth Services Insider’s many conversations with people for and against this bill.

More than a year ago, Sen. Ron Wyden merged his interest in expanding IV-E services to include foster care prevention with Sen. Orrin Hatch’s interest in narrowing federal support for congregate-care placements.

Two weeks ago, a tailored-down version of Family First was agreed upon by leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. Ways and Means marked it up immediately, and passed the bill by voice vote.

Then it headed to the Senate, with the hope that in the short time before Congress leaves for the summer, it could pass by unanimous consent, after which, off to President Obama it would go for signature.

When asked by YSI last week, the administration did not take a position on the bill. But let’s put it this way: there is no indication Obama would veto this, and more than one indication he would sign it.

As the bill dashed through the House, leaders on the legislation began to hear opposition from the State of California Department of Social Services and several state associations, as well as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. And before the legislation had been introduced, when Family First was still a draft bill, New York’s Office of Children and Family Services expressed concerns. It did so again after the bill was introduced.

These parties have directly asked their Senators – Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein from California, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand from New York – to hold up the legislation unless certain changes are made.

Both state agencies express several specific objections, but there are three major, common beliefs:

  1. California and New York believe that their child welfare systems already have a good outlay on both ends ­– strong prevention services and rational use of congregate care.
  2. They believe those outlays are better served by the existing IV-E structure than they would be under Family First reform.
  3. They both believe the states (and more directly, the 58 counties within each of them) would lose hundreds of millions of dollars under the new congregate-care rules, and are uncertain how much new money they’d see through IV-E prevention services. New York has officially projected a $215 million loss in congregate-care support, although one person very involved in the state child-welfare system said there is no way it’s that high.

Now, four things to know in the short-term:

  1. There will be no substantive changes to the bill, at least not on the level California or New York is asking for, before the recess. Even if bill authors were amenable to it, there is not enough time to pass that in the Senate and then move it back to the House for a second round. And any change prompting a reconsideration of the bill’s score by the Congressional Budget Office might tack months onto the process.
  2. On the other side, California and New York also appear dug in against the offer coming their way from Capitol Hill: support the bill now, then work through amendments in the three years before the real reforms kick in.
  3. If any one of those four Senators chooses to hold this up – or any other single Senator, for that matter – that will end any prospect of the bill’s passage this summer. It is unanimous consent or nothing for the summer session; it will not come up for a floor vote.
  4. When Congress returns in the fall, the guess here is that the bill’s chief architects ­– Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) – would seek a full Senate vote on the bill. And the expectation is that they would have the votes to pass it at that point, if they can get a vote.

So for the moment, the bill’s prospects now rest mostly with those Senators, who all find themselves caught between the stated interests of 58 counties and the first bill in history with a real chance of injecting prevention dollars into the federal IV-E entitlement.

Click here to read all of The Chronicle‘s continuing coverage of the Family First Prevention Services Act.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1211 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at