On Tuesday, July 25, Voice for Adoption sponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill to raise the importance of adding in resources and funding for the Adoption Opportunities program and the Adoption and Kinship Incentive fund.

During the hour, long session participants heard from the two congressional cosponsors of the event, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ). Both members discussed their support for adoptions and child welfare services more generally.

The briefing also included panel presentations from Darlene Allen, Adoption, Rhode Island, Amanda Choiniere, an adoptive parent also from Rhode Island, Bob Herne, Sierra Forever Families, and Moderator Schylar Baber, Voice for Adoption.  The panel also included one of the first Capitol Hill presentations by newly-appointed Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau, Dr. Jerry Miller (and Acting Commissioner of Children Youth and Families).

The briefing focused on the two programs and the need for post adoption services and how these two funding sources interact with the need.  The Adoption Opportunities program is the oldest adoption program at the federal level created in the late 1970s. In FY 2017, it is funded at approximately $39 million.  The funding provides grants and support for a variety of activities and research including resource programs such as AdoptUSKids. Other funds are directed to research and projects to promote adoption of minority children, adoption of older children, and research and development of post adoption services.

The Adoption Incentives fund was created under ASFA or the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.  It’s adoption targets have been adjusted over the years since with an increasing focus on older children awaiting adoption.  In 2014, it was expanded to cover some kinship and subsidized guardianships. States are awarded funds if they increase the number of adoptions over the previous year’s totals.  Funds are then reinvested into child welfare and adoption services.  In FY 2017 the incentives are capped at $37.9 million.

The panel presentation included information on how adoption opportunities funding and incentive funds can and does assist families and professionals.  In Rhode Island services include legal and judicial training and coordination, training for clinicians and professionals, targeting specific population such as teen parents and children awaiting adoptions.  The two funding resources also assist programs such as the Destination Family that focuses on the adoption of older youth in foster care seeking adoption.

In this year’s budget, the President proposed a cut of $9 million to the Adoption Opportunities funding from $39 million to $30 million. The recently adopted Labor-HHS appropriations in the House Appropriations Committee bill continues to fund it at $39 million. Advocates including Voice for Adoption and CWLA support efforts to increase funding beyond the $39 million.  Congressman Langevin and Congressman Franks have jointly sponsored an appropriation request to increase funding to $50 million.

The Adoption-Kinship Incentives fund may have a bigger challenge.  It is funded now at $37.9 million and doesn’t provide enough to fully pay the incentives the states have earned.

Each September awards are announced and the money is allocated.  If there is not enough funding, all state bonuses are adjusted downward. In the early years of the adoption incentive awards, when Congress failed appropriate enough dollars to fund all incentives earned, appropriators would increase funding in the next fiscal year and restore the shortfall in awards for all states that had earned the awards. Over the past approximate five years however, Congress has failed to do address the shortfall.  HHS has continued to make up for one year’s shortfall by taking from the next fiscal year funding.

Because of that shifting and lack of adequate appropriations, there will be only $4 to $5 million available this September when awards are announced. Likely states will earn somewhere between $30 and $40 million so the shortfall is likely to be significant. Advocates are asking Congress to significantly increase funding for at least one year to catch up on the shortfall.