Congress returns for what is likely to be the last sprint for the 114th Congress.  As part of that they are likely to move an updated version of the Families First Act (Conference Report 114-628)as part of a larger package of legislation.

Congress may agree to a “21st Century Cures” bill that seeks to add more funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and enacts reforms of Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) drug approval process.  That legislation, which has been a priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) will also bundled reforms of the nation’s mental health programs.

The new text on the Families First Act as well as the 21st Century Cures bill and the mental health reform legislation is all packaged in an updated Senate amendment to HR 34, the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act of 2016 and posted to the House Rules Committee website.

The significant changes include a fix on the “home-of-removal” eligibility issue which had the potential to make some children ineligible for federal foster care funding if they remained in a kin home for 12 months and treatment failed,  additional changes include allowing, at state option, a two year delay of the intervention services and congregate care restrictions under certain conditions, adding in  specialized placements for trafficking victims to the list of allowable IV-E placements, allowing a path to alternative staffing models for states that have significantly reduced congregate care rates, and allowing alternative MOE base years for small states based on the child population of the state.

The new language further delays the adoption assistance de-link for children under 4.  This is how they addressed the fact that the original savings was tied to a delay in the adoption assistance de-link starting on October 1, 2016.  The bill failed to pass by that October 1 date.

The House is expected to act quickly on the package this week and then it is on to the Senate.  The Majority Leader has listed the Cures bill as his top priority and it is unlikely he would have allowed the inclusion of the language if he weren’t willing to push the package through.  Past Senate holds may not be able to block the package if leadership is willing to seek breaking a filibuster.

As for the rest of Congressional action, the FY 2017 funding runs out on December 9 but if Congress can agree to a new CR into next spring they may get out of town earlier then that December deadline.  The White House has not offered any resistance and the only debate appears to be how far into March or April they may wish to push off the next continuing resolution.

A CR into the spring would create another vehicle for significant cuts in addition to possibly two reconciliations.  That means that time is running short for any other legislation including the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), assistance for the city of Flint to address lead contamination, and a few other priorities.

After the decisions are made, the 114th Congress will be finished and will defer significant spending, reauthorization and other decisions to the 115th Congress and President Donald Trump.