Late on Thursday night, September 18, the Senate gave final approval to HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.’ The main piece of the legislation reauthorizes the Adoption Incentive Fund for three years and extends it to guardianship placements.

The passage of the bill may not have happened had it not been for an outpouring of bill supporters calling into U.S. Senate offices. CWLA sent out an alert late Thursday afternoon (along with several key allies) to its members and the calls had an impact. The bill had been entangled with other legislation and other issues and seemed certain to not pass as the Senate exited until well after the election but the simple message callers were making to their senators: “pass HR 4980 an important child welfare bill that will help promote adoptions and kinship care” succeeded. Attendees as the CWLA’s National Kinship Care Conference in New Orleans responded to the message with calls to their senators.

In July Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected to a unanimous consent “UC” agreement that would have let the bill pass the Senate on a voice vote similar to what the House had done a few days earlier in July. Coburn objected to both the unanimous consent process as well as some provisions of the legislation. While discussions continued into August with the Senate on break, no resolution had been reached when the Congress returned.

Last week an accommodation was reached when Senate leadership agreed to let an unrelated bill move through the Senate by UC in exchange for allowing the child welfare bill to move. The other bill, S 1360, directs the Social Security Administration to take certain actions regarding the creation of a death match master registry. The registry is intended to allow federal and state agencies to match their payment records to the registry to assure there are no improper payments to people who are deceased. When the last day of session was reached last Thursday there were now objections to the registry bill.

It looked like those objections would not be solved and as a result HR 4980 was either going to have to wait for a long-shot vote in the lame duck Congress or perhaps wait for a total re-write in the next Congress. Across the child welfare community, associations and members of various organizations, including the National Foster Care Coalition, circulated the same basic alert to their members asking people to make two phone calls to their senators with the simple message “pass HR 4980.” There was evidence that the message was being heard I Senate offices and the legislation passed at around 10:30 PM. The unrelated death registry bill S 1360 also passed the Senate by UC and will go to the House for potential action in the lame duck session. HR 4980 will go to the President’s desk for his signature.

CWLA thanks all of it members and the many people and organizations that moved a bill that had been the subject of congressional hearings over a year and a half earlier.