Now that the new leadership of the Senate Finance Committee is settling in, there is the possibility that the Congress can finalize the Adoption Incentives reauthorization in the coming weeks.
In October the House of Representatives approved the “Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act” (H.R. 3205). The bill was passed on suspension, skipping the normal debate process and approved by a voice vote. The move to suspend the process was passed by a vote of 402 to 0 (Roll call no. 552). The bipartisan bill was introduced in late September by Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-MI), Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).
The Senate responded with their version of the legislation in December when the Senate Finance Committee reported out two bills. Both S. 1870/S. 1876 extend the adoption program, but the latter also includes provisions that relate to youth and victims of sexual exploitation. The legislation then ran into delays because funding to extend the Family Connections Grants at $15 million a year was used for the December budget deal. In addition, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), left office early to accept the ambassadorship to China. Now that the transition to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) as the new chair of the Committee is in place, the legislation could be on the short list of things that can get done quickly.
The House bill, like the Senate bills, extend the reauthorization of the Adoption Incentive fund and the Family Connections Grants. Currently states are rewarded for an increase in the overall adoptions ($4,000 per child), special needs adoptions ($4,000) and older child adoptions—considered a child age 9 or older ($8,000). In the last reauthorization a $1,000 incentive was included for states that experienced an increase in their adoption rate. This part of the award was only provided to states if the funding did not run out after the other categories were provided. The two bills would:
- Phase-in awards based on improvements in the rate of adoptions and guardianships instead of actual increases in numbers of adoptions (with slightly different methodology).
- Under the House, add a $1,000 award for placements with legal guardians/kin (with the definition of these guardianship placements mirroring certain requirements under Title IV-E) while the Senate bill would provide $4,000 (with slightly different definitions).
- The House provides a $2,000 award for overall adoptions while the Senate sets it at $4,000. The House provides $4,000 for children aged nine through 13, $8,000 for a new category of youth aged 14 and older, while the Senate provides $4,500 per special needs adoption and does not designate a special category for 14 and older.
- Both bills require states to calculate savings resulting from the gradual de-linking and increased federal funding support for adoption assistance. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to create the formula or work with states to develop a calculation. States have to document how they are re-investing these funds beyond what they currently spend under Title IV-B and Title IV-E programs. The two bills differ on how much will be designated for post-adoption services and how much is designated on prevention services
- Both bills extend the Family Connects Grants at their annual $15 million a year awards.
- Both bills enact a fix to current guardianship law that will allow a child to receive continued support when there is successor guardian due to death or incapacity.
The two sides are negotiating their differences and if an agreement is reached it will likely result in one bill that will then move through each house in order. Despite a lack of reauthorization, the appropriations for 2014 does provide $39 million for awards. If a reauthorization were not enacted the old formulas would apply. The Family Connections Grants are mandatory funding and without a reauthorization there would be no new grants and possible cutbacks to current grantees.