With Brittney Gerteisen
One item the Senate may get to in the next month is the nomination of Lynn A. Johnson to be Assistant Secretary for Family Support, Department of Health and Human Service (formerly Administration for Children and Families).
Last month, shortly before the break, the Senate Finance Committee took up the nomination. Chairman Hatch began by highlighting Johnson’s experience which includes her current role as Executive Director of Jefferson County Human Services. She has also run a consulting firm that focused on mental health, high-risk youth, and child welfare. According to Hatch, if confirmed, Johnson will be expected to oversee a wide range of more than 60 programs; making it the second largest agency in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. He also flagged the recent enactment of the Families First Act and the role she will play in its implementation.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member, expressed concerns over the Trump Administration blocking information that Congress is seeking regarding recently adopted child welfare legislation. He was referring to the Administration proposed delay in the implementation of the Adoption and Foster Care and Analysis Systems (AFCARS) update. In his opening actual comments, he also raised the Families First Act and its significance. Wyden used his opening remarks to compliment Hatch’s role in in getting the Families First Act, the CHIP reauthorization and recent changes to Medicare enacted in this Congress. Hatch is retiring at the end of this year.
Johnson was introduced by home state Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) who offered his bipartisan support especially for her work in addressing poverty in Jefferson County. Bennet said that he has heard from numerous advocacy organizations in support of her recent work. Johnson, in her testimony, discussed her experience working with poverty programs and highlighted her work to coordinate those programs including Head Start and school programs and non-profit community organizations. She said the challenge of this new job would involve dealing with and reducing child abuse, poverty, homelessness and human trafficking. In response to the first question she again emphasized her goals to reduce child abuse and to reduce poverty. Johnson also discussed reducing and streamlining the process to help local communities to better address these issues.
Wyden led off his questioning with AFCARS, he tied it to getting information on sex trafficking. He then asked if she supported the bipartisan legislation of prevention sex trafficking and strengthening families law and other past legislation and she responded in the affirmative. Wyden told her that he could not support her nomination unless there is a timeline and commitment to getting AFCARS done.
Wyden also criticized what he characterized as Colorado’s use of Title IV-E funds for juvenile justice placements. She described the Colorado system that allowed 30 facilities that can accept youth from either foster care or juvenile justice and that the goal in these instances to is to place these young people into some non-traditional settings.
Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), used his questioning to discuss the Obama Administration’s rule to limit discrimination in the placement of children in foster care. He referenced the Miracle Hill Ministries, a faith-based agency, that last month, was warned by the State Department of Social Services, that they could not recruit Christian-only families for foster care placement. In response the Governor has defended the agency. The agency refers non-Christians to the State Department of Social Services.
Scott wanted to know if Johnson were confirmed, would she agree that child placing agencies (whether private, faith-based, or other) have the resources necessary to continue providing services to the nation’s most vulnerable youth. She said there were not enough resources and placements and that in part drives congregate placements. Johnson also said that that there needs to be an increase of resources for two-parent families.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked if Johnson would work to continue to use the Title IV-E waivers. Johnson’s response was that she would work within the law and work with the Families First Act to maintain innovation. Cantwell asked about welfare reform. Johnson indicated that the program was now more than 20 years old and that there needed to be more integration and reducing administrative burdens.