Trump 2019 Budget: Flexibility Beyond Family First Act, But with a Catch

As far as youth and family services are concerned, President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal did not differ much in terms of request from his first proposal from 2018. CLICK HERE for Youth Services Insider’s chart of key youth funding lines.

But it did include the surprising reappearance of a Bush-era offer to states to trade in the constraints of the federal foster care entitlement for a flexible, but capped, allocation.

The Title IV-E entitlement funds two things, with exceptions permitted by waiver: payments related to foster care, and adoption assistance. That outlay will soon change due to the Family First Prevention Services Act, which allows states to start drawing IV-E reimbursements for services to help parents who would stand to lose their kids to foster care without the help. [You can access our complete breakdown of that new law by clicking here for part one, part two and part three.]

The White House budget offers a “flexible funding option for states and tribes to expand allowable uses of foster care maintenance and administration payments.”

Under this structure, states could use IV-E money for any of the purposes and services authorized under IV-E and IV-B, which is a block grant states can use for the prevention of abuse and neglect, family preservation and the types of services permitted under the Family First Act.

While it doesn’t spell it out in the budget, the caveat was made clear in the way that Trump official Jerry Milner described it in an op-ed for The Chronicle this week. Their funds will not be under the protection of an entitlement. From Milner:

The President’s proposed budget includes a provision that will allow states to opt into a flexible funding approach to use Title IV-E funds under a capped allocation, very similar to the existing IV-E waiver flexibilities that can be used to strengthen the protective capacities of families long before child welfare services are needed. In short, this will allow states to work with families earlier, to get them what they need and to prevent bad things from happening to children.

As mentioned, this is not the first time this proposal has surfaced. In 2004, Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) circulated a bill that would shift the entire entitlement into a capped, flexible pot. The Bush administration, of which Milner was a member, pitched an opt-in offer similar to Trump’s.

Youth Services Insider logoWill Congress buy this proposal? Who knows. One would be foolish to assume that the appropriations process would proceed in regular order for fiscal 2019 since they are still hashing out the funds for this year.

So the likelihood it would be debated in earnest is pretty low. But the Family First Act just became law via a one-month continuing resolution, so who knows?

Assuming for a moment it did pass, it would be interesting to see if any states bought in. Analysis done on the potential impact of the Herger bill suggests they should at least think about it.

In 2008, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) projected what states would have received under the Herger plan from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2010, and compared it to a combination of actual and projected IV-E foster care reimbursements.

CRS determined that states would have brought in about $5 billion more under the Herger plan than the entitlement.

It would set up a tough choice when you factor in the Family First Act provisions. States would have to choose between total flexibility and funding uncertainty, or only some flexibility but the protection of an entitlement.

The Trump budget also calls for a 10-year, $110 million incentive program aimed at rewarding states for not failing the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) process, which Milner helped craft under Bush. We are three rounds into the CFSR process, which was created by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), and not one state has passed it.

As for the overall youth budget, among the programs tracked by Youth Services Insider the 2019 proposal includes about $310 million more than last year’s. Most of the increase come in three programs:

  • Head Start ($9.3 billion, up $107 million from last year’s ask)
  • Child Care and Development Block Grant ($3 billion, up $245 million)
  • Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) ($1.1 billion, up $200 million)

The UAC program puts Central American minors apprehended at the border in the custody of the federal government, and usually places them with relatives in the United States while they seek asylum.

The never-admit-defeat explanation for the increase got a chuckle from YSI. The increase is due to:

… “Potential increased demand for the program in the near-term, while also reflecting the successful deterrence of UAC migration to the United States from the Administration’s border enforcement efforts.”

Translation: We are successfully deterring unaccompanied minors in every way except keeping them from coming. The proposal also includes a $200 million contingency fund in case there’s even more “potential increased demand.”

The biggest decreases in the Trump proposal compared to 2018 are to TRIO and GEAR Up, two programs aimed at helping low-income youth get into and prepare for college. Trump proposed $477 million less for those programs this year than last year.

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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 1212 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at