There was no vote on the Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456, Conference Report 114-628) as Congress finished a budget deal last week Wednesday. As a result, the bill still remains in the same place. That means that it could be finished or dead for this Congress. There could be one more run at it in a December lame-duck session. But any action in December would depend on several factors including: the results of the November election, the need to find “offsets” or ways to pay for it, the need to reauthorize the Title IV-B programs and whether or not there is some agreement between bill sponsors and the states and some of the advocates who were opposing certain parts of the legislation.
There is also the issue of time if a quick painless agreement can’t be reached. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated his only priorities are to finish the appropriations bills and to work on a bio-medicine bill.
The election impact
There are any number of combinations that could happen between now and November 8. A Trump presidency will likely mean his party will also control both houses of Congress. That could mean a lame duck would be very quick with few items beyond a decision on FY 2017 funding which runs out on December 9. A Clinton presidency could be in any number of combinations between a Republican Congress, a divided Congress with the Senate flipping and the House remaining the same to having both houses switching. In these cases, it is likely that they would want to finish the FY 2017 budget for the rest of the year and perhaps finish up some other potential areas where there is some bipartisan agreement such as the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention ACT (JJDPA). Families First Act could fit into that scenario but not unless the other challenges are addressed.
One of the arguments or pressure points to pass the Families First Act before Congress left was that some of the offsets or ways to pay for the bill would disappear because of the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2016 (FY 2017). The total ten years of savings (between 2017 through 2026) for the bill is $1.640 billion. This is made of three sources: adoption assistance de-link/delay at $720 million, the restrictions on residential/institutional care at $910 million and $10 million in Medicaid savings.
The ten-years of savings in the bill for adoption assistance of $720 million is captured by delaying the final two phase-out years of the delink of federal adoption assistance payment from the 1996 AFDC income standard. The 2008 Foster Connections to Success eliminated the link of adoption assistance to AFDC but it did that by eliminating the link by age groups spread out over the ten years since that law was passed.
Starting October 1, all special needs adoptions for two and three-years-olds are to be covered by matching federal adoption assistance. In 2018 the infants and one-year-olds are to be covered thus completing the elimination of the adoption assistance link to the 1996 AFDC eligibility requirements. The $720 million offset delayed the last two years of the delink by two and a half years. Because the coverage to two and three year olds is to start October 1, some of that $720 million is no longer available. How much is unclear but numbers have been floated. The first year’s savings is only $20 million but that savings also accrues over the ten-year period and so it is larger than the one year of savings. (Savings accrues over ten years because many families that receive adoption assistance are likely to receive that assistance into the child’s teen years).
The second piece of savings that may be reduced is the saving resulting from the residential care changes. Although they do not go into effect until 2020, CBO calculated $10 million in savings in 2017. Presumably because some states would reduce use of residential care and make placements into lower cost foster care settings. There is also a savings of $5 million in Medicaid because CBO projects less Medicaid coverage in some residential placements.
Generally, a figure of more than $400 million has been circulated as lost savings now that the bill was not passed by October 1. Regardless, some savings would have to be found (and the savings must meet certain five-year and ten-year spending cut requirements). Congress has been reluctant to find any savings outside of child welfare since the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success Act when Congress agreed to several offsets outside of child welfare. If there is a shortfall there is likely to be pressure to again come up with other parts of child welfare and there are few places to look. Within child welfare possible targets would likely be limited to Title IV-E funding since Title IV-B provides limited and capped funds. Targets in Title IV-E could include administrative costs with foster care and adoptions or restrictions on the use of foster care maintenance and adoption assistance payments in some way.
Title IV-B Programs Reauthorization
The legislation reauthorizes the two Title IV-B programs which expire by October 1. Child Welfare Services (CWS) is annually appropriated and is now down to $269 million a year. Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF), which includes the Court Improvement Program (CIP) is set at $345 million in mandatory funds and $69 million in appropriated funds. The Families First Act extends the two programs and makes some age changes to the Chaffee Independent Living Program.
There are only two items in this package that require offsets. The main one is the extension of the Court Improvement Program (CIP). Because of the quirkiness of the CBO scoring, to continue the CIP at the same level is calculated to cost $20 million a year for a five-year total of $100 million. Five years ago Congress dealt with this by simply cutting PSSF services funding by $20 million a year. Another such cut would mean Congress has reduced these intervention and prevention services by $40 million a year over last six years.
The only other item that costs in this part of the Families First Act is the one year of $8 million for foster parent recruitment. Aside from these two items the rest of the proposed changes (including changes to the IV-E Chaffee Independent Living program) could happen regardless because they do not require offsets:
- Five-year extension of the adoption-kinship incentive fund (part of IV-E) continue the same formula for awards set in 2014
- Five-year extension of the Regional Partnership Grants of $20 million with adjustments including mandated participation by state substance abuse agencies and new funding allocations
- Five-year continuation of the $20 million caseworker visit-workforce funds
- Increased eligibility for the Chaffee Independent Living program to age 23 (IV-E),
- Increased eligibility for Chaffee student voucher eligibility to age 26 (IV-E)
- Elimination of the 15-month time-limit on the use of PSSF funds for reunification services
- A one-time $5 million set aside drawn from appropriated funds for a grant to help spread the use of the NEICE Interstate Compact expansion initiative with states required to update their ICPC system by 2026
- Requirements to include evidence of being in foster care as part of the document package for youth that age out (to assist young people eligible for Medicaid to age 26 if they were in foster care)
- Five-year continuation of the court funding program (CIP)
- A new $8 million to create competitive grants that will address foster parent recruitment
There were several states holding up final agreement for various reasons including but not limited to: required maintenance-of-effort spending to drawn down the new intervention funds, the requirements around nursing staff, screening measures and court oversight. Some of those issues were discussed with some promises of how the future law would be interpreted. A post-election world might make those verbal commitments more viable if it’s clear who will control the next Congress and who will be in the White House.