CSAC Bulletin Article

House Adopts Major Child Welfare Reform Bill

June 23, 2016

Earlier this week, the House or Representatives approved on a voice vote a major child welfare finance reform measure (HR 5456). The legislation, entitled the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016, is designed to prevent children from being placed in foster care by providing at-risk families with early-intervention services. The bill also aims to reduce the number of youth who are placed in congregate care settings.

Although HR 5456 includes a number of positive provisions – such as a first-time federal match for a limited set of prevention services – the bill would negatively affect California’s “Continuum of Care Reform” (CCR) implementation efforts. CCR, which is the state’s landmark foster care reform initiative, is designed to ensure that, among other things, the goals of the federal IV-E program are fulfilled and that youth in foster care have their day-to-day physical, mental, and emotional needs met and that they have the best chance of growing up in permanent and supportive homes.

According to analyses done by the State Department of Social Services and the County Welfare Directors Association of California, several provisions of HR 5456 conflict with State law, as well as certain federal mandates overlaying the state’s foster care reforms. As a result, if enacted in its current form, the House legislation would ultimately make state and local CCR implementation efforts more costly, complex, and unduly burdensome. CSAC has registered its concerns with HR 5456 in a June 17 letter to leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee and the California congressional delegation.

A coalition of child advocates and other organizations has joined the State and California’s counties in expressing concerns with the pending legislation. In June 21 correspondence to key members of Congress, several child-advocacy groups indicated that the measure, as drafted, would result in a number of unintended consequences for children placed in kinship families and would eliminate California’s successful Transitional Housing Placement Program for youth aged 16 and 17.

It should be noted that despite considerable efforts aimed at modifying the House bill, the legislation was ultimately approved by the chamber under expedited procedures. Adding to the challenge of addressing the bill’s deficiencies was the fact that the Ways and Means Committee cleared the measure just days after releasing the legislative text. While members of the California congressional delegation were informed of county concerns with the bill, the process employed by committee leaders left extremely little time for members to amend the measure.

Action now turns to the Senate, where a bipartisan companion bill (S 3065) has been introduced by Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR). According to committee staff, while they are open to considering changes in the future, committee leaders intend for the legislation to proceed without amendments. Accordingly, CSAC is continuing its aggressive lobbying campaign aimed at modifying the bill, a central component of which is direct engagement with the offices of Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

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