The Family First Transition and Support Act (HR 2702/S 1376) bipartisan cosponsored by Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE), Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Jim Langevin (D-RI), and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) in the House and sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the Senate.
The legislation would add several provisions designed to strengthen the implementation of the 2018 Family First Act. Most significantly a de-link of the AFDC eligibility restriction for family foster care.
Key provisions would:
• Eliminate the outdated Title IV-E foster eligibility for family foster care by eliminating the link to the 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) law. Currently federal funding supports foster care placements if the home of removal would have been eligible under the 1996 AFDC program. HHS indicates that 40 percent of children in foster care are covered with IV-E funds. The rest are funded by state and local dollars or flexible sources such as TANF and SSBG.
• Expand funding under Promoting Safe and Stable Families (Title IV-B part 2) by approximately $200 million (added to current $338 million for services) and allows funds to be used to help kin families especially those in crisis. Uses include child care, transportation, legal services, emergency assistance (items such as utilities and housing emergencies) and other services such as family finding and family group decision making.
• Delay the requirement (to start October 1) that at least half service funds under Family First must be spent on the highest “well-supported” programs. It delays the date to 2026 so more funding could be used for promising and supported services.
• Provide states and tribes with the ability to draw-down $15 million in state-directed research funds. This responds to concerns that child welfare programs can’t fund research to make their programs into supported and well-supported programs.
• Increase the $20 million a year for states for child welfare workforce development (if they meet the annual caseworker visit standards) to $50 million over each of the next two years giving states new funds to develop and support workforce.
• Boost funding for Regional Partnership Grants (RPGs) to $60 million from $20 million. This builds evidence base for these substance abuse/child welfare programs so that there are more programs that can qualify for Family First services funds.
• Increase funding for the Court Improvement Program from $30 million to $60 million while expanding tribal court access to funding.
• Provide a new $75 million to support foster family recruitment including expanding therapeutic treatment foster care, increasing capacity to care for teens and adolescents, sibling groups, and victims of trafficking.
• Provide short-term federal support to help states meet Family First licensing and foster care training and accreditation standards.
• Provide an increase in the set-aside from 3 percent to 4.5 percent and expands access for tribes and tribal consortia for much of the new or temporary grants.
Examining the design of the legislation it is clear that bill sponsors and others in Congress in both parties are attempting to strengthen the ability of states to implement the Family First Act in a way that helps and provides more resources to all fifty states. The bill targets key areas such as building the supply of evidence-based programs, greater support for kin families, expansion of family foster care especially for hard to place children and youth, workforce development, greater research and court-child welfare coordination. With the increased federal spending levels in the budget over the past two years, if child welfare spending is held to budget neutrality—making the bill more difficult to pass—it may be the only area in the federal government that is held to that standard.