On August 28, the Senate approved the nomination of Lynn Johnson to become the new Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) or as the Administration refers to it as, the Office of Family Support. The vote was 67-28. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) had placed a hold on her nomination moving forward over several issues. He relented when in his remarks he indicated that he had received some assurances regarding immigrant issues and the treatment of families separated at the border and the structure in the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Johnson’s experience 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. 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.
Previous to the Johnson action, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Elizabeth Darling to head up the Office of Children Youth and Families (ACYF). She appeared before the Committee on Wednesday, August 22. The Commissioner of ACYF requires Senate confirmation (as does the Assistant Secretary for ACF).
As currently structured you have the Secretary of HHS, under that position are the Assistant Secretary of ACF, under ACF is the Commissioner of ACYF and below this is the position Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau and the Associate Commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB).
If Darling does successfully make it through that process, it would be the first time that an Administration has had a Commissioner of ACYF and heads of the Children’s Bureau and Family and Youth Services Bureau all at the same time since the George W. Bush Administration. In the Obama Administration the positions were shifted between appointments to either ACYF or the Children’s Bureau or a hybrid combination.
If confirmed, Darling would oversee billions of dollars of entitlements and grants meant to support child welfare services, such as adoption and foster care, and to prevent family violence, youth homelessness and teen pregnancy, among other issues. The office distribute roughly $6.2 billion in mandatory payments for foster care in 2018. And it also oversees discretionary funds of around $267 million for other child welfare services and a little more than $100 million for homeless youth programs.
Darling is currently the President & CEO of OneStar in Texas. She is not new to Washington having served in the President George W. Bush Administration from 2001 to 2005 as the head of the then-new Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at HHS. From 2005 into the Obama Administration in March of 2009, she was the COO of the Corporation for National and Community Services—the independent agency created in the Clinton Administration that acts more like a foundation to fund and promote national service. She has served at OneStar since her 2009 departure from Washington. OneStar is the Texas version of AmeriCorps.
Senator Wyden expressed concerns at the hearing that the Trump administration would seek to transform child welfare and foster care funding into a block grant, which could potentially slow growth of federal funding but mean a cut for states and families that receive the payments. He asked Darling to respond to questions about capping federal funding for foster care in written answers for the record.
Darling left federal government in 2003 to become deputy secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, running the state’s child care and social services programs and then returned to the Bush administration.