On Tuesday, September 19, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the “Strong Families Act of 2017,” reauthorizing the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV).
The legislation was also co-sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). It extends MIECHV for five years without the requirement that states match the grant dollar-for-dollar in order to remain eligible. It will continue at the same level of $400 million a year through 2022.
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This signaled significant progress earlier in the week, but came before the explosion of the announcement that the Senate was going to vote again to replace the ACA.
The week before, the House Ways and Means Committee debated and passed a reauthorization of the home visiting program. The legislation, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program—named the Increasing Opportunity and Success for Children and Parents through Evidence-Based Home Visiting Act (H.R. 2824)—passed on a party-line vote.
The House bill does extend the home visiting program for another five years, but it does not increase funding. In fact, it includes a new state match that Republicans see as adding funding, but advocates see this as a potential roadblock for continuation of services in some states.
The match is particularly troublesome for tribal communities that are frequently confronted with an inability to match federal funding. This has been a past barrier to tribal governments trying to access Title IV-E and other child welfare and child services. While some tribal communities may have access to revenue from casino gambling, that still leaves behind many poor communities with no such revenue. A new match for tribal programs could be debilitating. There seemed to be some willingness by Committee Chairman Brady (R-TX) and Subcommittee Chairman Smith (R-NE) to look at this further before the bill is adopted on the floor. Several members, especially Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), emphasized his concern about tribal populations in his district.
The next steps are likely to be a vote this week now that the House has returned from the Rosh Hashanah break. On the Senate side, work and discussions have been slowed like so many items due to the renewed ACA debate. Hopes still remain that a reauthorization could be approved by the September 30 expiration date, but that is a closing window.