As Youth Services Insider reported last week, the Trump administration presented a fiscal 2019 budget that offered full flexibility of child welfare funds to any state willing to take a capped allocation, also known as a block grant.
Congress would have to sign off to make such an offer reality. But assuming it did, would any state consider taking the deal, risking the protection of entitlement structure to escape the constraints of its limitations?
The answer seems to be: At least one. A bill is currently making its way through various committees of the Florida legislature that would formally request a flexible block grant in lieu of the Title IV-E entitlement, which guarantees reimbursement for income-eligible children, but only for the costs of foster care or adoption assistance.
There is no state better situated to make such a request; Florida essentially operates under the format of flexibility now. In 2006, the state obtained a statewide, IV-E waiver that enabled its Department of Children and Families (DCF) to take a capped allocation and break it up among the private lead entities that carry out most of the state’s child welfare services (sheriff’s offices handle the investigation part).
The waiver expires in September of 2018, and federal authority to grant any new waivers ends in 2019. The Florida bill, called a “memorial” in the state’s legislative parlance, asks the U.S. Congress for “legislation under which Florida’s existing Title IV-E waiver for child welfare services could be renewed in lieu of a return to traditional federal Title IV-E funding.”
A similar memorial circulated in early 2017, which more bluntly asked Congress for “a child welfare block grant” to replace IV-E foster care, died in the Appropriations Committee of the Florida House.
Florida’s legislature has no direct influence over the actions of Congress, of course. But a state-approved request for the block grant, especially under a Republican governor, could hold some sway if and when Congressional appropriators take up fiscal 2019 spending. As you’ll recall, Congress is still hashing out 2018.
It is tumultuous times for child welfare financing in the Sunshine State. Consider the context in which this request for a block grant is being considered:
- Like every state, Florida is now left to contemplate the fiscal impact of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which became law as part of the one-month continuing resolution passed in February. The law makes time-limited services for birth parents available through the entitlement, but also limits state IV-E reimbursement for congregate care placements (click here, here and here for our breakdowns of the law).
- Florida DCF was just hit with a class-action lawsuit over the conditions of care in its southern region. Most of the lawsuit’s claims stem from DCF’s shortage of foster homes in the area.
- Another bill in the Florida hopper would set a 12-month clock on reunifying foster youth with birth parents. It is legislation aimed at speeding up the process, and keeping kids from holding up foster beds for long periods of time, but jeopardizes the return of many children to their homes. Less than half of Florida foster youth exit care within 12 months, and nearly half of the kids who exit are reunified.
The request to Congress was sponsored by State Rep. Gayle Harrell (R). It was approved by the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, and now awaits action by the Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability.