No Brainers: Congress Should Act Quickly on Home Visiting and Foster Youth Jobs Program

Check back here tomorrow for Youth Services Insider‘s long list of youth-related federal legislation to keep an eye on this fiscal year. But we begin today with two pieces of legislation that, in Youth Services Insider‘s estimation, are no- brainers. If Congress cannot get these to the President’s desk in short order, it will be a travesty.

Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV)
Certainly the most urgent issue on the table in youth services is MIECHV, which will expire at the end of the month if there is not legislative action to prevent that. The program has fueled the expansion of several models of home visiting, which entails professionals helping to prepare new or expecting mothers for parenting.

It is hard to imagine Congress letting MIECHV go unfunded. The Nurse- Family Partnership (NFP), one of the approved home visiting models under the program, was singled out by the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse, Neglect and Fatalities as the only intervention proven to prevent maltreatment deaths. Nixing MIECHV puts the majority of Nurse-Family Partnership programs in the country in jeopardy, and that is surely the case for other models that have thrived with additional federal funds.

It is possible to do that without truly reauthorizing the program; this is evident because MIECHV has already gotten two two-year reprieves since its initial authorization expired. The push is on for a more traditional five-year deal. If it doesn’t get done by September’s end, we might see programs start to shutter.

Before the previous last-minute save of MIECHV, The Chronicle of Social Change asked Nurse-Family Partnership CEO Roxane White what sort of hit the network would take if MIECHV expired.

“We would lose at least half, if not two-thirds, of NFP providers,” White said.

MIECHV funds represent about 25 percent of the annual money spent on NFP operation, White said.

“But those funds are huge for leveraging other resources,” she said. “Hospitals will host us. It has drawn in additional dollars at the state level. The leveraging is pretty unbelievable.”

There is bipartisan support to reauthorize MIECHV, but at least in the House, the parties are currently split on what that reauthorization will include. In early summer, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee surprised MIECHV advocates with a bill that did not include Democratic sponsors.

The Republican bill held MIECHV funding at $400 million per year for the next five years. It also required states to match MIECHV funding at increasing levels, and to demonstrate increasing social dividends from the funding.

The bill was a shock to the Home Visiting Coalition, a group of 50 organizations that have run point on pushing for MIECHV reauthorization.

“This took us by surprise,” said Diedra Spires, CEO of the Dalton Daley Group, a nonprofit group that has helped coordinate advocacy on MIECHV. “It might look like states can cover the match now, but we’re not in a bubble. If we’re looking at the possibility of different cuts in Medicaid and other programs, will that match be as easy as people think it is?”

A Democratic version was introduced later in the summer, which doubles the MIECHV account to $800 million by 2022, which is the sum asked for by the Home Visiting Coalition. Before the summer recess, the coalition presented leaders in both chambers with a letter in support of the $800 million expansion that was signed by 826 national and state youth- serving organizations.

The Senate has yet to move on MIECHV. Action could start at the Senate Finance Committee, or the Senate could simply vote on what the House produces.

Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act

President Trump campaigned on a platform that stressed, among other things, jobs. This year, Congress will have a chance to move a low-cost bill aimed at connecting one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations with stable employment opportunities.

The Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act, H.R. 2060 and S. 885, would provide tax credits of up to $2,400 to employers who hire current and former foster youth between the ages of 18 and 27. This is achieved by making youth who were in foster care at age 16 an eligible category under the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which incentivizes the hiring of certain groups that struggle with barriers to employment.

The credit began 20 years ago as an incentive to hire veterans. Its scope has widened to include citizens with certain hiring challenges.

The bill was inspired by a partnership between iFoster, a nonprofit in California, and several big employers. iFoster has prepared current and former foster youth for entry-level jobs and placed hundreds of them with partners, including several major grocery store chains, Starbucks and CVS.

iFoster continues to check in with the employees after placement. The program has placed 250 foster youths into jobs, with a 90 percent retention rate and an average of 3.2 months until promotion.

All indications are that advocates for the bill will look to connect this to an overall tax reform package if one gets moving this year.

“Many things in child welfare are difficult to solve. This is not one of them,” said Serita Cox, founder and CEO of iFoster, at a Congressional briefing about the bill this winter. “This is a solvable problem. It’s simply about matching supply and demand.”

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1094 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.