Last week S. 2777 and H.R. 4980, the Family First Transition Act was introduced in both houses with bipartisan support. CWLA has endorsed the legislation. The two identical bills will provide $500 million to all states and jurisdictions distributed under Title IV-B, part 1 formula. States will have two years (retroactive to October 1, 2019) to spend the funds. Funds can be spent in the same way states can spend under the broad Title IV-B part 1 program, Child Welfare Services. States also have the added flexibility of spending funds in a way similar to their expired child welfare waivers in the 22 waiver states.

A second major feature of the legislation includes a delay in the evidence-based spending thresholds. Under the new Family First Act states are allowed to draw-down entitlement funding under Title IV-E on mental health, substance use treatment, and in-home services, but states must assure that at least 50 percent of that new spending is on the “well-supported” programs. That has proven to be an initial challenge since few programs have been rated as well-supported under the new evidence-based clearinghouse designed by the legislation. The District of Columbia is the first jurisdiction to have a service plan approved by HHS and some of their initial funding will be for the well-supported Parents As Teachers—PAT, home visiting program. Under the new legislation, states can spend any of their funding in FY 2020 and FY 2021 on well-supported, supported, or promising programs. Starting in FY 2022 and 2023, states will have to spend at least 50 percent on well-supported and supported programs and then in 2025 states will have to meet the original 50 percent threshold on the well-supported program.

The third provision is an attempt to back-up states with waivers that expired in FY 2019. Separate and not counting the additional $500 million, waiver states will be guaranteed at least 90 percent of their waiver funding if they do not draw down that amount of funding under traditional IV-E funding. Since the waivers were first created at different points, many of the waiver states have experienced an increase in foster care placements and that could potentially increase their draw-down under Title IV-E. In determining what the states expiring waiver grant amount is, HHS will base the calculation on the original waiver calculation of funding with that final funding figure based on waiver financial data as of August 31, 2019—the time period close to when this new bill was announced on Capitol Hill. The provision is an attempt to prevent any last-minute recalculation of waiver funding by states.

Finally, the bill honors MaryLee Allen from the Children’s Defense Fund by re-naming Title IV-B part 2, the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families program. Title IV-B, part 1 had been re-named the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services program in 2011, (PL112-34) after the late Congresswoman from Ohio. MaryLee Allen passed away this summer. She was an original contributor and advocate for the Title IV-B part 2 program when it was adopted through the 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (PL 103-66) as the Family Preservation and Family Support Act creating the first federal funding specifically targeting family preservation.

The legislation will be looking for a “vehicle” bill that could be attached to at some point late this year. There are any numbers of must or greatly-desired-to-pass bills including a prescription drug pricing bill, tax extenders, health care extenders, and perhaps a massive final FY 2020 budget bill.

In the CWLA endorsement, President & CEO Chris James-Brown said,

“The legislation will help state child welfare agencies access the new intervention funding made available by the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018. This comes at an important time…due to the impact that the recent opioid epidemic has had on the ability of families to support their children and keep them safe… We must continue to build a continuum of child welfare services from primary prevention, intervention, strong permanency outcomes and greater support for youth that exit care without a family.”

For a list of approximate funding for states under the $500 million grants readers can go here. On the high end, the state of California will receive approximately $52 million and Texas will receive $47 million while at the other end, Washington D.C. will receive $600,000, Wyoming $800,000 and Alaska $1 million.