The fate of the Families First Act, in these last few days of Congress rests with a continuing resolution as the last possible vehicle for enactment. Congressional sponsors are asking advocates to weigh-in with House and Senate leadership to move the bill as part of a CR that must be passed before Congress wraps up.   Members can be reached through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

The bill was part of the “21st Century Cures Legislation” but it was quickly stripped out of the bill late Tuesday when it was objected to by a group of five Republican Senators led by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC).  He also signed a letter outlining his objections to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

In the letter the five senators said, “This could leave these neglected children without a place to call home, all because of Congress’ haste to pass legislation before the end of the year without fully considering its impact.”  The letter was signed by his junior colleague Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), Senator Dan Coates (R-IN) and Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY).  It was widely reported that during the weekly Tuesday Republican Senate luncheon, Burr indicated that the bill had been moved through a deviation from regular order and that it could have a potential adverse impact for children in foster care.

The positions of senators Burr, Toomey and Coates is surprising because the three never raised any public objection during the pre-election efforts to pass the bill in the Senate by voice vote (unanimous consent). Senator Coates is retiring while senators Burr and Toomey particularly stand out because both were the focus of intense national attention due to their tight re-election battles that they both won by narrow margins.

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.”

Senator Mike Enzi had also signed the letter but earlier this year he had placed a hold on the original bill.  It was believed that the new bill had satisfied his concerns with a change in the state maintenance of effort requirements for the intervention funds and with the allowance of a delay in implementation.

The Families First Act had been revised and posted on Friday, November 25 and combined with the 21st Century Cures Act.  That larger bill, which combines increases for the National Insitutes of Health (NIH) funding with changes to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug approval process, and a reauthorization and reform of the nation’s mental health funding (see below), and funding for substance use has passed the House.

Families First Act was added onto the bill along with a one-year extension of TANF and some limited funding for social impact bonds.

The significant changes in the current bill include 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, and allowing alternative MOE base years for small states based on the child population of the state.

The new language further delays the adoption assistance de-link for children under 4.  This is how bill sponsors addressed the fact that the original savings was tied to a delay in the adoption assistance de-link starting at the beginning of FY 2017, October 1, 2016.