Last Week Before Recess for Child Welfare Finance Reform Bill

On Friday, the Senate will head into its recess until early September, so there are five business days left for a summer passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, the major overhaul of the IV-E entitlement that opens up federal funds for substance abuse and mental health services while limiting funds for congregate care.

So, where are we?

Senate leadership on Family First put the bill on the hotline last week, which means that it would pass only if no Senator raised an objection to it. A hold doesn’t necessarily kill legislation either; sometimes, a Senator’s objection or objections can be dealt with or addressed.

No Senator has publicly owned it yet, but it seems that more than one has placed a hold on the bill. Youth Services Insider has heard this from a few sources.

We also know that leadership on the legislation do not think they are dead in the water this week. This suggests that they believe there’s room to discuss the objections with whoever has raised them.

One thing seems clear about those potential discussions, though: They will not include amendments. The state child welfare agencies that have pushed for holds on Family First want – at the very least – substantive changes to the rules on congregate care limitations. That simply won’t happen in a week, because such changes would require a second vote on the bill in the House.

So the best any Senator is likely to get is a promise that this bill’s reforms won’t kick in until fiscal 2019, and that is plenty of time to work out some changes and clarifications.

Meanwhile, a new state child welfare agency has joined California and New York in opposition to the act: Washington. Jennifer Strus, the head of the state’s Children’s Administration, voiced concern about the impact of the bill on the state’s Behavioral Rehabilitative Services (BRS) program in a letter to Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

BRS, Strus wrote, is the “most restrictive” tier of services in Washington’s child welfare continuum. Nearly half of the youth (45 percent) served through BRS are in residential facilities.

“Many of the children placed in BRS facilities have been unsuccessful in less restrictive placement and need the structure of a facility-based placement to improve,” Strus said, in the letter.

Family First requires that qualified residential treatment programs – one of the few exceptions to the bill’s two-week limit on congregate care funding – be accredited and provide nursing and clinical staff in person during business hours and on call at all times.

Strus said that while some BRS facilities fit that bill already, these would constitute “an additional and in many cases, unnecessary expense” for other providers.

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