Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have introduced the State Flexibility for Family First Transitions Act. It would allow current Title IV-E waiver states to extend their child welfare waivers for two years although there is no provision that would stop another extension after the next two-year extension. As part of an automatic extension the state would have to provide a plan to improve permanency and reduce the number of children emancipating from foster care. It’s not clear from the legislation how or if there would be any method to require a state to meet the requirement. Waiver states would also delay the Quality Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) provisions of the Family First Act.
The new Child Trends survey of state child welfare spending indicates that use of Title IV-E funding through Title IV-E waivers has been for services that can be currently paid for under the current Title IV-E law. According to the survey, funding totaled approximately $2 billion. The report also indicates that states stand to lose $300 million in funds if the waivers expire.
One of the big challenges for continuing the waivers will be if the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores or calculates that there is a cost to extending the waiver program. The $300 million loss—if the CBO agrees with that analysis—could affect CBO scoring meaning an extension could cost $300 million or more. Other anecdotal accounts in the recent past have suggested a cost of $ 1 billion over five years. In any case a waiver cost suggests a possible challenge in finding the funding. The previous Ways and Means Committee insisted on any child welfare spending being paid for by cuts in other parts of child welfare or programs within the subcommittee’s jurisdiction (child welfare, TANF, SSBG, SSI and unemployment compensation).
According to the new Child Trends survey of 24 states providing data just 10 percent of waiver funding is being spent on services and activities not normally reimbursable. According to the report 73 percent of waiver spending was for children eligible under Title IV-E foster care and for eligible services (foster care maintenance and administrative services) and another 16 percent was spent on eligible services (foster care maintenance and administrative services) but the child/family was not eligible under the current Title IV-E income limitations.
The survey of 2016 data does not include results from California however 2014 data reported by that state indicated that California waiver spending included 51 percent spent on services eligible to be covered under current Title IV-E and another 45 percent was spent on eligible services, but the children/families were not eligible under income standards.
This latest round of waivers was the result of a restoration of waiver authority in a 2011 law (PL 112-34) after it had expired in 2006. It was sought by some states and a few organizations. Up to ten states a year (for a total of 30) were allowed to apply under the conditions that states make at least two improvements in their child welfare system from a list of actions included in the bill including items such as expanding Title IV-E funding to kinship care, extending foster care to age 21, enacting a foster care bill of rights and several other options. It is unclear if those requirements were met by approved waiver states. The Los Angeles County (and a few other California counties) and the state of Florida are operating under a waiver originally granted just before the waiver sunset in 2006.