With Congress likely to be discussing appropriations into December there is time for a number of issues and in some cases Congress will have to act. One possibility that was mentioned in early August by Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is a mark-up of child welfare legislation. That is still uncertain and contingent on some bipartisan agreement and likely the need to find some new funding.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 1964 just before the August break. That bill would extend Title IV-E entitlement-mandatory funding to a range of limited services that would prevent the placement of children in foster care and allow for follow up services for families that are reunified. Such a proposal is likely to be calculated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as increasing costs, something that Congress has always been reluctant to do in most child welfare bills. As a counter to that Senator Hatch’s office is stilling examining ways to restrict “residential” or “group home” care and he appears to have moved away from strict time limits and seemed to acknowledge that in last month’s hearing. In his remarks he acknowledged the need to have a system of alternatives for the children most affected by limits on residential placements. Despite this he will likely seek limitation on such out of home care placements.
In addition to these two members others are seeking changes to child welfare. A bill to expand access to therapeutic foster care, S 429 is sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WS), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) with a House version HR 835 sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK), Congresswoman Karen Bass and Congressman George Butterfield (D-NC) has strong bipartisan support on the Finance Committee.
Senator Bob Casey (PA) introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act (S. 1852) that would provide a technical fix to the ACA that extended Medicaid to all former foster youth up to age 26 regardless of what state they move to later.
Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced S. 1932 shortly before the Wyden bill. The legislation, co-sponsored this week by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), would also expand some services through Title IV-E as well as allow an extension of current child welfare waivers. The bill provides HHS with a great deal of discretion in interpreting which services would be covered. The legislation also de-links current foster care eligibility from the 1996 AFDC eligibility standard however it directs HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to come up with a way to delink that is cost neutral (i.e. no increased cost in Title IV-E spending beyond current spending).
Finally there is a bill by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced S. 1439 along with Senator Jack Reed (R-RI) a bill that would allow states to use Chaffee Independent Living funds more flexibly if the state extends its foster care under Title IV-E to age 21.
Any child welfare legislation will revolve around funding and resources as well as the time the committee will have to address the issue. Some are likely to suggest the use of SSBG as a funding source but that may get a chilly response from the human service community and may not sit well with some members of the Finance Committee.
It is not that Congress is without funding sources that don’t take from child welfare or human services. When Congress passed the temporary five month extension of the transportation funding, passed in August, it provided $8 billion in revenue for just that period of time. Those offsets came from the tax code and not transportation. Eight billion in funding would provide a major expansion of child welfare, even if stretched over the five year budget projection period. In addition to the financing challenges of a child welfare bill there are a number of must-pass items on the Committee’s agenda that could clog up the rest of this year’s schedule. (see next item).