President Obama released his final budget for fiscal year 2017 last Tuesday. While the politics of this year and the President’s lame-duck status makes this a difficult budget to adopt there are some key proposals that can build on a vision for reforms and changes for child welfare. It also offers the potential for some bipartisanship in some key areas this year.
The Administration repeats some of their recent reform proposals for child welfare including proposals to better coordinate between state child welfare and Medicaid agencies and proposals to address congregate care and intervention services to reduce foster care. In addition, this year they have focused special attention on the child welfare workforce. They are proposing giving states easier access to Title IV-E training funds if it is used to assist workers in obtaining a BSW or MSW degrees. In addition, the state could draw down a higher federal match if they hired more BSW and MSW child welfare workers. (see below for more detail)
One example of potential bipartisanship is the topic that continues to occupy the attention of many legislators both publically and behind the scenes, the issue of substance abuse. In regard to substance use the Administration released information days before the budget outlining $1.1 billion in new funding as part of the budget to address heroin and opioids addiction. The funding would be spread through several agencies to expand treatment and prevention. More immediate to the child welfare field, the Administration proposes a $40 million increase in designated substance abuse regional partnerships through the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program when that is reauthorized later this year. The Administration proposal would increase the current funding from $20 million to $60 million a year.
The budget process however may already be slowing down. Last year’s budget agreement set spending ceilings for both this year’s budget and 2017. While House leadership has designated February 25, as the timeframe for getting a budget resolution out of the House Budget Committee, that is now looking less likely. Some House conservatives are taking issue with last year’s budget deal and they are now seeking cuts.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) told his members on Friday they have three choices, go back to the spending caps/cuts, go back to the old caps on the domestic side but include a defense spending increase, or stand by the deal agreed to by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Ryan told his members that the first two options means that there will be no action in the Senate and that will result in no budget and just continuing resolutions after October 1.
One potential approach that the Speaker has offered up is a reconciliation bill that could be used in the next Congress. That has never happened before with legislation always ending at the end of a Congress. There have been suggestions however that the Republican leadership may attempt this if they can get a positive ruling from the parliamentarian. That could entice some Republican caucus members convinced that they will be dealing with a Republican President next January. Such a reconciliation in waiting could allow the 114th Congress to move legislation for a number of priorities from the repeal of the ACA, tax reform to various top block grant targets including the Medicaid and SNAP programs. It would however require both a ruling by the parliamentarian and then a need for the Senate to go along.