Family First Update: Home Recruitment Added; Hints at Cost; Many Supporters Stay on Board

The House Ways and Means Committee marked up and moved the Family First Prevention Services Act, the new version of child welfare finance reform first initiated last year by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Read our overview of the new legislation and Youth Services Insider‘s mega-breakdown of all the developments that have moved this bill from “pie-in-the-sky” to having a realistic chance. Today’s markup did provide some additions to the bill and more information about it.

The House version was introduced by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), chair of the Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources.

“The nation is in the grips of an opioid and heroin crisis, which according to states is responsible for recent spikes in need for out of home care after more than decade of decline,” Buchanan said, who also noted that it’s “often less expensive and more effective to keep a child safely at home.”

“Federal funding has been stacked against prevention,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the committee. “The vast majority is available only after a child has been placed in foster care.”

The technical overview provided of the bill gave one of the first public insights in the anticipated cost. Ways and Means staffer Anne DeCesaro, answering questions from Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), said the limits on congregate care would pay for “half the savings needed to fund the up-front prevention services.”

Pressed by McDermott for a number, DeCesaro said “less than $1 billion.”

“One dollar less?” McDermott prodded.

“About $900 million,” DeCesaro said.

This seems to suggest that the anticipated price tag for the up-front services is $1.8 billion.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), an early supporter of Wyden’s framework for reform, voiced objection to the current bill’s delayed onset. The IV-E preservation funding would not become available until October of 2019.

If the opioid and heroin epidemic present an imminent danger, Doggett asked, “what does this bill do about it? It says in three years, we’ll act about it. There’s nothing for this year, next year, or the following year. That is a failure to address imminent danger.”

Doggett also lashed out against the offset inserted into the bill that would press pause on a delinking of federal adoption support and 1996 income standards. The bill would hold off on delinking that standard until fiscal 2021; until then, certain children between the age of zero and three who are adopted from foster care would not be supported by federal dollars.

“We are taking money from Peter to pay Paul,” Doggett said.

The pause on delinking does not actually leave adoptive parents without support. All states have systems to provide subsidies for youth adopted from foster care; the delink would increase federal support for those systems.

It appears that many advocacy groups, including those focused on adoption, are more accepting of the adoption offsets than Doggett. The committee posted a list of more than four dozen organizations who have declared support for the new version of Family First.

Among the supporters is the so-called “triad”: the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, the American Public Human Services Association and the National Organization of State Associations for Children.

Alliance spokeswoman Marlo Nash told YSI last week that the group was reviewing the bill’s language on qualified residential treatment programs, one of the categorical exceptions to the bill’s limitations on federal funding for congregate care.

Among the other national supporters listed by the committee: the Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund, First Focus, Generations United, the Juvenile Law Center, the National Associate of Black Social Workers, Voices for Adoption, and Zero to Three.

The House tacked on a modest, but significant proposal to address foster home recruitment and retention. Many states have faced challenges in recruiting more foster parents, as The Chronicle has reported in a recent series.

The house bill now includes $8 million for competitive grants to state and tribal agencies to support the recruitment and retention of high-quality foster families.

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

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1115 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.