On Thursday, March 7, four key congressional leaders on child welfare asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar to increase the HHS efforts on the implementation of the Family First Act. The letter signed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN) expressed concern over the HHS rollout of the services part of the law:

“As members who were deeply involved in the development of FFPS and as the committee leaders who will oversee its implementation, our major priority is that states who wish to implement this law when it goes into effect on October 1, 2019 have the ability and support to do so.”

The letter describes some deadlines that HHS has missed. In January, HHS sent out a letter to states announcing a timeline for the new clearinghouse on eligible services but with an initial list of approved programs not released until May. That means many state legislatures will be out of session. Last year HHS released an initial list of 12 services they were reviewing but that does not mean they have been formally approved for state use. The letter further adds:

“The current lagging timeline for the clearinghouse is a serious impediment for states trying to implement the law by October 1, 2019…We ask you to assure states as soon as possible that all 12 programs being currently reviewed will be included as part of the preapproval list and therefore be eligible for federal funding.”

The letter represents a bipartisan, bicameral frustration with the implementation as reflected in the final line: “FFPS is designed to provide support to families with children at risk of entering foster care, and has the potential to help thousands of children stay safely with their parents. We ask for your continued support to make this happening”