Congress is back. The long congressional summer break provided time for several webinars and conference calls for what is shaping up as two sides on the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456, Conference Report 114-628).
Congress left in July with several senators placing “holds” against moving the legislation by voice vote. Opponents have argued for the bill to be stopped unless there are changes while supporters argue there is no possibility of a potentially lengthy amendment process. If action isn’t taken, supporters argue that the bill and its significant changes in funding will end not just for 2016 but for years to come.
If the Families First Act doesn’t move before October 1, then Congress still has to reauthorize the two Title IV-B programs: Child Welfare Services and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families as well as the Adoption and Legal Guardianship Incentive Fund. Two of these funds are dependent on annual apportions, Child Welfare Services and the Incentive Fund. Both the Senate and House Labor-HHS bills would continue current funding and that would be unlikely to change even without a reauthorization. For PSSF the situation is more precarious. The $20 million in mandatory court funding would disappear (the $20 million is not in current Labor-HHS bills). The larger part of PSSF includes $345 million in mandatory funds (some designated for courts) and it is unclear how long that law could go without reauthorization beyond October 1. The Congressional Budget Office could categorize an extension, if it doesn’t occur in a reasonable time, as “new” federal spending requiring new offsets.
The Chaffee Independent Living program does not require a reauthorization, as some have indicated. The Families First Act would make several improvements to the Chaffee program but similar to SSBG (Title XX) it is a mandatory funded block grant set at $140 million that does not expire every five years.
How much time is left to address the bill is not clear. In this contentious election year Congress will likely want to leave as soon as possible while dealing with the must pass activities of appropriations, Zika funding and a few other priorities. That leaves a narrow path to passage by October 1.