The Bill Passes
On Wednesday, June 15 the House Ways and Means Committee passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456). The legislation was adopted by a voice vote but only after more than an hour of debate that outlined some of the challenges regarding the proposal and the process. Most members, both Republicans and Democrats, praised the legislation for its efforts to provide funding for upfront services addressing mental health and substance use. The House intends to act on the bill on Tuesday. The bill and discussion was not without criticism about the funding strategy.
The legislation, which has been endorsed by CWLA and by several groups was criticized by some committee Democrats for its lack of funding outside of child welfare services. Most forceful on this point were Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA).
The bill offers a potentially wide expansion and access to Title IV-E entitlement funding for tested and approved mental health, substance use and in-home services not tied to the outdated link to the 1996 AFDC program. Instead of an income-based eligibility there would be an eligibility based on whether or not the child is at-risk of a foster care placement and considered a “candidate for foster care.”
For these candidates, the child, the parent, guardian or adoptive family would be eligible for services for up to 12 months in a spell. Services could also be available to a foster youth who is pregnant or parenting. Services would be limited to promising, supported and well-supported programs with an emphasis on well-supported. There would not be a limit on the number of 12 month spells in a child or family’s lifetime. These funds could also flow to post-permanence placements including children who are reunified and adoptive families who latter are in need of counseling and other interventions.
A state would have to opt into such funding through an amendment to their five-year state plan outlining services provided, strategies and workforce standards. While 12 months may not be long enough for some program models, funding could provide a vital link or supplement to services that are already drawing on other state and federal dollars.
These new provisions as well as the restrictions regarding institutional care would start in three years.
The bill puts in place restrictions on institutional care. It amends current definitions of foster care within Title IV-E to include a definition for family foster care homes limited to homes of six or fewer children (with state ability to waive the definition for sibling placements, children with special relationships to the foster parent, and children with disabilities). In addition, it includes a new definition of child care institutions of 25 or less by creating a definition of qualified residential treatment program (QRTP). The legislation includes the requirements around the need for a licensed or registered nurse or clinical personal on site during business hours and available 24 hours 7 days a week. A provision that has been criticized by some stakeholders. It also outlines assessment requirements and treatment plans for the child in such a setting. It does not require a time-limit in funding as proposed through some earlier proposals but does require rigorous oversight via the courts.
Other pieces of the bill since it includes a reauthorize of the Title IV-B programs:
- Extension of the adoption-kinship incentive fund
- Extension of the Regional Partnership Grants of $20 million with adjustments including mandated participation by state substance abuse agencies and new funding allocations
- Continuation of the $20 million caseworker visit-workforce funds,
- Expanded Title IV-E eligibility for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs
- Increased eligibility for the Chaffee Independent Living program to age 23,
- Increased eligibility for Chaffee student voucher eligibility to age 26
- Elimination of the 15-month time-limit on the use of PSSF funds for reunification services,
- A set aside for a grant to spread the use of the NEICE Interstate Compact expansion initiative
- 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)
- Continues the Court funding which required an offset in funding
- A new $8 million to create competitive grants that will address foster parent recruitment
Chairman Brady praised the bill in his opening remarks by describing the bill as,