Capitol Hill is working on a bipartisan deal that is intended to assist states to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would give states an added $500 million in child welfare funds, allowing states to spend more flexibly on the three categories of evidence-based services and create a guarantee of minimum funding for the 22 waiver states that have expiring waivers on October 1.

The Family First Act law allows states to draw-down entitlement funding without regard to income for certain mental health, substance use and in-home services. Starting on October 1, 2019 if the state is willing to fall under the new residential care definitions and restrictions for Quality Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP) they can opt into the new services funding. Some projections are that up to 17 states will take the option to draw-down the new services funds this October 1.

To help increase this number, the new legislation would provide all states with $500 million more that could be spent in either fiscal year 2020 and/or 2021. The funds would flow through Child Welfare Services (CWS), Title IV-B part 1. That CWS block grant is currently funded at $269 million with California receiving the most at approximately $30 million and Alaska on the other end receiving approximately $285,000. Those totals should almost triple with funding available for two fiscal years. There would be a three percent set-aside for tribal communities and governments. No state match would be required.

CWS has broad flexibility with nearly 30 to 40 states spending some of their funds on child protection services, family preservation and family support services as the three most popular uses. One of the few restrictions is use of funds for foster care and adoption assistance which is limited to a handful of states (less than two dozen) allowed to continue that spending that started in the late 1970s before there was a Title IV-E.

The second major feature of the new legislation is to allow a delay in a requirement that 50 percent of total state services spending (on the new mental health, substance use, in-home programs) be spent on the highest rated programs, well-supported programs. Programs are ranked by a new evidence-based clearinghouse. Spending half of the money on only well-supported is a challenge because only 6 programs have been rated well-supported in the early months of the new clearinghouse.

As a result, the new legislation will allow states in FY 2020 and FY 2021 to spend on any of the three categories of services: well-supported, supported and promising. In years 2022 and 2023 50 percent must be spent on a combination of well-supported and supported programs and in 2024, 50 percent would have to be spent on well-supported.

Finally, the piece will address the 22 state waivers that were mandated to end at the end of this month. The 2011 Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovations Act, restored waiver authority after a five-year lapse. It allowed ten new waivers a year between 2012 through 2014 but the law also stated that “in no event shall a demonstration project…be conducted after September 30, 2019. Several counties and states have been lobbying for an extension. This bill offers a compromise that, for the 22 waiver states, no state would receive less than 90 percent of their current waiver block grant if they failed to draw enough funding down through the existing Title IV-E entitlement. Most state waivers converted Title IV-E maintenance into a fixed allocation or block grant. Most were for selected counties within the state. That 90 percent guarantee would be for FY 2020 with the guarantee reduced to 75 percent of funds by 2021.
The combination of the temporary child welfare funding, flexibility on the evidenced based standard and back up for waiver states will help more states into the new services funding coming through the Family First Act.

It is understood that it will not be possible to pass the legislation by the end of the month and before the new fiscal year starts. The intent is to unveil the bill this month with the understanding that funding will be retroactive to October 1, 2019 (FY 2020). The funding is not offset by cuts.

CWLA views adding funding into underfunded child welfare programs—from primary prevention of child abuse to a permanent family and doing it without cutting (offsets) in other areas of child welfare as an important step. Important in making improvements in the lives of children and their families. This legislation, if it makes it though the political traps of 2019, would be an important aid to the under-resourced state child welfare systems across the country.