Wait Until September

Congress left last week to start one of their longest summer breaks in decades.  As they departed they were unable to get final action on the Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456) (Conference Report 114-628).  The legislation has been endorsed by CWLA. All week long, bill sponsors had attempted to reach unanimous consent to move the legislation by voice vote.  And all last week there were unconfirmed reports surfacing (senators can stay anonymous with their holds) that there were objections at times coming from states or senators from California, Texas, Utah, New York, Florida and possibly others.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) made clear that he and other supporters will pursue final passage in September when Congress returns.  In his last remarks before the Senate left he said,

The weight of the status quo is severe, and it falls heaviest on the thousands of foster kids living in quiet struggle.  If this bill were to come before the Senate in an up-or-down vote, I believe it would sail through on a bipartisan basis. It’s the right policy for kids, and it’s the right policy for taxpayers, whose investments in foster care today aren’t helping children and families the way they should.”

At this point it is unclear what the Senate sponsors will do in September, whether to attempt any modifications, force an up or down vote on the House bill or continue the unanimous consent agreement approach.

No action means the two Title IV-B programs would be set to expire on October 1.  A failure to reauthorize would not threaten the current funding for the Child Welfare Services (IV-B part 1) since appropriators have included the same flat funding level of $269 million in their current appropriations bills.  The impact on Title IV-B part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families, funded through a combination of discretionary and mandatory funds, is less certain.  Part of the funding, $20 million for the Court Improvement Program, would lapse.  Both appropriations bills do not include that funding for FY 2017 due to the fact that Congress has not reauthorized the mandatory funding.  The adoption/kinship incentive fund would likely continue as it has in the past with an expired formula.

History of Action

The legislation started with the introduction of a bill last year by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), S 1964, that extended the use of Title IV-E funding to services.  That introduction, after several weeks of feedback from advocates, resulted in a further negotiation between Senator Wyden and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT).  Those negotiations resulted in a fall announcement of the Families First Act that was released as a five-page descriptive document that did not include actual legislative text.

Negotiations between key House and Senate staff started up in late April or early May with an initial goal to extend the two expiring Title IV-B programs with the possibility of adding some new elements. Those discussions resulted in a House bill, Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456) released in mid-June.  It was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee shortly after introduction a week later by a voice vote on the House floor on June 21. It was introduced as a Senate bill, S 3065, on Friday, June 17 by Senators Hatch, Wyden, Bennett (D-CO) and Grassley (R-IA).

The Budget Costs

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score indicates that the cost of expansion is more than offset and actually results in $66 million in federal savings over the next ten-years.  The cost is offset by the restrictions in residential/group care and the delay in the adoption assistance delink.  The cost includes $1.3 billion in up-front services which start in FY 2020.  The ten-year cost calculation is for the entire ten-year period but most of the federal costs is incurred between the 2020 to 2026-time period.  Additional costs of the legislation are a continuation of the Court Improvement Program (CIP) at $20 million a year for five years, funding for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs costing $3 million next year rising to the $15 to $17 million range by 2022 and a one-time grant of $8 million for grants to states to promote foster parent recruitment. Almost all savings are from the restrictions and new definitions of institutional care ($910 million) and the delay in the adoptions assistance de-link for children 3 through infancy ($720 million)

Title IV-B Programs Reauthorization

The legislation reauthorizes the two Title IV-B programs which are set to 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 CIP is set at $345 million in mandatory funds and $69 million in appropriated funds.  The bill extends the two programs and makes some age changes to the Chaffee Independent Living Program.  To extend the court funding requires Congress to find $20 million a year because CBO considers it “new” spending despite the fact it is a continuation of the same program.  Changes include:

  • 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

Some Key Implementation Timelines if Enacted

  • October 1, 2016 (FY 2017)

o   Reauthorization of the Title IV-B part 1 and part 2 programs

o   Allowing PSSF funding for reunification services beyond current 15-month limit

o   Extension of age limits for Chaffee transitional living funds to 23 and education vouchers to 26 in certain circumstances

o   States to include in state plans, planning strategies to prevent child fatalities

o   $5 million set aside from appropriated funds for 5-year ICPC web-based updating

o   Re-vamping some requirements of the regional partnership grants to address substance abuse

o   Continuation of Court Improvement Programs (CIP)

o   Allowing up to 12 months of foster care maintenance payments (without AFDC income test) for children placed with their mother in certain family-based treatment facilities during substance use treatment

o   2 ½ year delay of last two phases of de-linking adoption assistance from the 1996 AFDC eligibility standard

o   Allowing use of Title IV-E administrative funds to support evidence-based kinship-navigator programs

  • October 1, 2017 (FY 2018)

o   $8 million would be available (over 5 years) for HHS—provided competitive grants to support recruitment and retention of high quality foster families

  • April 1, 2018

o   States submit information to HHS on use of licensing standards for foster family homes, including an explanation of waiver of certain non-safety and non-health standards to place children in relative foster care settings

  • October 1, 2018 (FY 2019)

o   HHS provides guidance on meeting the promising, supported and well-supported requirements under the prevention services provisions

o   HHS provides a list of pre-approved services and programs that meet the standards

  • April 1, 2019

o   The final phase-out of the link between adoption assistance and the 1996 AFDC eligibility link restarts

  • October 1, 2019 (FY 2020)

o   States may implement and draw-down Title IV-E funds for foster care prevention services

o   New definitions of family foster care and child care institutions (residential and congregate care) with required screening, monitoring and other limitations

  • October 1, 2020 (FY 2021)

o   HHS provides performance measures based on children receiving foster care prevention services who later enter foster care

  • December 31, 2023

o   GAO Report due to assess whether more children have entered the juvenile justice system due to restrictions in new law