On Thursday, December 19, Congress passed the Family First Transition Act as part of an omnibus appropriations bill this week. The further consolidated appropriations bill of 2020 (page 1483) is the appropriations agreement reached through Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and congressional leaders. The original vehicle for the Family First Transition bill was supposed to move as part of a prescription drug reform bill but that measure has bogged down.

During the 2019 CWLA National Conference, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) addressed the conference before Hill Day and before he introduced S 1376 (with a House version HR 2702/Representative Bass D-CA) that legislation attempted to address state concerns regarding the implementation of the Family First Act and the fact that 22 states had expiring waivers under Title IV-E. While that bill (that included a de-link of eligibility from AFDC) did not pass it helped advance those goals through S. 2777 and H.R. 4980, introduced in both houses after a bipartisan group of offices announced the agreed to legislation. CWLA had endorsed the legislation.

The law 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 and Utah are the first jurisdictions 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 with Utah adding in some additional programs. 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, (PL 112-34) after the late Congresswoman from Ohio. MaryLee Allen passed away last 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.

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.