The fate of the Families First Act wasn’t decided until the very last days of session. While advocates made a final push to get the legislation included in the CR, that did not happen when that bill was published late on Tuesday night. Despite that, discussions continued until the very end. On Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to pass the revised legislation by unanimous consent. He efforts to suspend the rules, viewed here, failed when Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) objected. When the House quickly passed the Tuesday CR by Thursday and left town shortly after, the “train” left the station.
The bill was part of the “21st Century Cures Legislation” but it was quickly stripped out of the bill the week before when it was objected to by a group of five Republican Senators led by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC).
The Congressional Quarterly reported that Senator Burr and Tillis had come under pressure by North Carolina’s Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina with sample letters by members that stated, “Let them know that you have seen children’s lives changed through the residential services that Baptist Children’s Homes offers.”
The significant changes in the last version of the bill included a fix on the “home-of-removal” eligibility issue which had the potential to make some children ineligible for federal foster care funding if they remained in a kin home for 12 months and treatment failed, additional changes include allowing, at state option, a two-year delay of the intervention services and congregate care restrictions under certain conditions, adding in specialized placements for trafficking victims to the list of allowable IV-E placements, allowing a path to alternative staffing models for states that have significantly reduced congregate care rates below a certain percentage, and allowing alternative MOE base years for small states based on the child population of the state.
The Title IV-B programs were extended through the CR but that likely means a loss of $20 million a year in Court Improvement Program (CIP) funding. Any future for the Families First Act will be juxtaposed against a back drop of proposals to block grant Medicaid and other human service entitlements which, in the end, could have a much more significant impact on child welfare services and populations—especially against a backdrop of ever-expanding opioid addictions and fatalities.