In 2008 when Congress enacted the Fostering Connections to Success Act, one of the most significant parts was a gradual “de-link” of Adoption Assistance from the old AFDC link. As is still the case with Title IV-E foster care and kinship care placements today, federal funding for children in care is only provided if a child has been removed from a family that would have been eligible for the discontinued July 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
The Fostering Connections to Success Act (between 2008-17) eliminated this AFDC link phasing in two age years of children each year. By year ten (2017), all adoption assistance placements would be eligible for federal IV-E funds if the child is considered either a “special needs” adoption (as defined by states-usually including any child adopted from foster care) or is a child eligible for SSI disability.
The delink meant that some of the cost of Adoption Assistance would be shifted to the federal government and away from state budgets. By year ten, savings to the states, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, indicated that the federal government would be picking up an addition $505 million in Adoption Assistance payments in 2017. A single year total well above funding for either of the two Title IV-B child welfare block grants.
Due to the fact that states would benefit so much, the new Fostering Connections law stated: “A State shall spend an amount equal to the amount of savings (if any) in State expenditures under this part…to all applicable children for a fiscal year to provide to children or families any service (including post-adoption services) that may be provided under… [Title IV-E or IV-B].” As the CBO said, “The law requires states to spend any funds they save through this provision on IV-B and/or IV-E activities.”
Fast forward from 2008 to 2011. No state saving has been calculated during the first 3 years. No effort has been made to make states reinvest hard fought-for new federal funding back into state child welfare budgets. CWLA along with Voice for Adoption work on strengthening the reinvestment language.
In January 2011 Congress passes a reauthorization of the Title IV-B block grants. In HR 2883 Congress amends the reinvestment language and directs HHS by telling the department they, “shall document how such amounts are spent, including post adoption services.”
Despite the 2011 language, nothing is documented as far as states savings or reinvestment. In 2016 Congress adopts another reauthorization of the Title IV-B block grants, this time called the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.”
This time the new language, as described by that year’s Senate Finance Committee report is more specific: “Under the Committee Bill, states would be required to calculate the savings (if any) resulting from expanding eligibility for Title IV–E adoption assistance using a methodology specified by HHS, or one proposed by the state and approved by HHS. Each state would be required to report annually to HHS on—1) the method it used to calculate the savings (regardless of whether any savings were found); 2) the amount of any savings identified, and 3) how any such savings are spent.”
This report would include a ‘‘detailed account’’ of the spending (in accordance with requirements established by HHS) to ensure the state meets the requirement for reinvesting these savings in child welfare services. Additionally, the report on any spending of these funds would need to be made separately from other reports on spending made by states to HHS for programs under Title IV–B or Title IV–E.
States would be required to spend not less than 40% (this would later be adjusted) of any state savings identified (due to expanded eligibility for federal Title IV–E assistance) to provide 1) post-adoption or post- guardianship services and 2) services to support and sustain positive permanent outcomes for children who otherwise might enter state foster care. This spending would need to be used to ‘‘supplement, and not supplant’’ any federal or non-federal funds being used to provide any child welfare-related service authorized under Title IV–B or Title IV–E.
HHS was required to post the annual reports made by each state regarding any such savings and how they are spent on the agency website in a location that is easily accessible to the public. After that legislation some data was generated by the states and HHS. Although not well posted, the information begins to document some state savings, but it is not across the fifty states.
In 2018 Congress passes (as part of a larger budget agreement), the Family First Prevention Services Act. Despite the new law’s eventual expansion of Title IV-E to cover some mental health, substance use treatment and in-home services, the overall bill over ten years cuts federal spending. Part of the savings comes from the new requirements around the QRTPs, but an additional portion of the savings come from a further delay in the Adoption Assistance de-link. Instead of completely delinking ALL adoption assistance placements from AFDC as of October 1, 2017, the youngest population of infants and toddlers are delayed further with the full delink to take place in April 2020.
The rationale for the delay in the de-link is this lack of accountability and reinvestment of savings. The legislation requires a GAO report to examine the “requirement that they spend, for child welfare purposes, an amount equal to the amount of savings (if any) resulting from phasing out the income eligibility requirements for federal adoption assistance and the requirement that not less than 30% of any such savings be used for post-adoption or post-guardianship services and services to support and sustain positive outcomes, and permanency, for children who might otherwise enter foster care.”
Now we have a GAO report that says states believe they don’t have to spend the savings in any specific year.