CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 2883 under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval. H.R. 2883 was introduced by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) on September 12, 2011, and was referred to the House Committee on Committee on Ways and Mean, which reported the bill with an amendment on September 19, 2011.
Reauthorization of Federal Child Welfare Programs
H.R. 2883 would re-authorize and amend a number of current child welfare programs and authorize appropriations to provide funding for these programs. H.R. 2883 would authorize the appropriation of $325 million each year from 2012 through 2016 for the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program and $200 million for each year from 2012 through 2016 for the Safe and Stable Families program. Under current law, the authorization for both programs expires on October 1, 2011, at the end of FY 2011. According to CBO, in 2011, Congress appropriated $282 million for Child Welfare Services and $63 million for Safe and Stable Families. Therefore, CBO estimates that implementing these provisions would provide a total discretionary authorization of $2.62 billion and a total discretionary cost of $2.1 billion over the 2012-2016 period, assuming the appropriation of the authorized amounts.
In addition to the authorization of appropriated funds, H.R. 2883 would authorize the appropriation of $345 million in annual mandatory funding for the Safe and Stable Families program from FY 2012 through FY 2016. According to CBO, the costs of extending the mandatory component of the Safe and Stable Families program are already included in CBO’s baseline and are therefore not included in the cost of the bill relative to CBO’s baseline assumptions.
The bill would also reauthorize the Court Improvement Program which provides grants to state court systems to assess foster care and adoption laws. The bill would extend the program, which is set to expire at the end of FY 2011, through FY 2016. In addition, the bill would attempt to streamline the program by allowing states to submit one application for each of three court improvement grants instead of three separate applications.
H.R. 2883 would reauthorize the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) authority to grant new child welfare waivers through FY 2014. Under current law, the waiver authority allows states to waive certain child welfare spending requirements and, according to HHS, allows states to “test innovative approaches to child welfare service delivery and financing.” The bill would modify the waiver program to allow ten waivers per state, per year from FY 2012 through FY 2014. In addition, states would be required to implement specific child welfare improvement policies outlined in the bill and states would be required to report spending before and during the waiver process. The bill would also end the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, for which no funds were appropriated in FY 2011.
Modification of Federal Child Welfare Programs
H.R. 2883 would make a number of revisions and modifications to current child welfare programs. The bill would revise a requirement for caseworkers to visit foster youth each month to better measure the percentage of visits actually made in the year and ensure that a substantial percentage of visits occur in the home. The bill would require states to complete at least 90 percent of expected monthly foster care visits, rising to 95 percent by FY 2015. In addition, the bill would require that at least 50 percent of all visits occur in the home of the foster child.
The bill would modify regional grants for helping parents with substance abuse issues by removing the priority for methamphetamine, which will broaden the programs focus and allow states to determine the most critical substance abuse issues. H.R. 2883 would also cap the amount of these funds that can be used for administrative purposes to 5 percent.
H.R. 2883 would also require standardized data and HHS coordination of data exchanges across state child welfare programs and oblige states to work to ensure that foster youth remain in the same school whenever possible. States receiving grants would also have to: 1) explain how they will ensure psychotropic medications are used correctly, 2) explain how they will address developmental needs of young children in care, 3) explain how they will focus services on those most at risk of maltreatment, 4) explain how they will minimize emotional trauma associated with removing a child from their home, and 5) provide older youth a copy of an existing credit report.
The bill would also require states to document spending on post-adoption services, and require HHS to compile child welfare spending data and post it on their website. Finally, the bill would stipulate that HHS must evaluate the effectiveness of regional grants to help parents with substance abuse issues, and GAO would provide a report on the time families must wait for substance abuse or other services.
According to CRS, under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, the federal government provides funds to states, tribes, and territories for the provision of child welfare-related services to children and their families. Under the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services (CWS) program, states may provide a broad range of services designed to support, preserve, and/or reunite children and their families. States are required to use funding received under the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program for specific categories of child and family services. Under current law, authorization to fund both the CWS and PSSF programs expires at the end of FY2011.
According to House Report 112-201, H.R. 2883 would extend the current CWS program for five years, while strengthening it in several key ways. Under this bill, states would be expected to provide new information in their state plans on how they will address the emotional trauma of children and the developmental needs of the youngest children in care. In addition, states would be required to ensure the proper oversight of psychotropic medications provided to children in foster care, which has been an ongoing concern in recent years and the subject of several Human Resources Subcommittee hearings. Finally, this provision would attempt to improve the calculation of caseworker visits of children, while raising from 90 to 95 percent the target rate for such visits.
In addition, the bill would extend the current Promoting Safe and Stable Families program for five years. The bill would also make modifications to the program in an attempt to strengthen and streamline it. For example, under the bill states would be expected to describe how they will target program services to populations at the greatest risk of maltreatment, and mentoring, among other services, are explicitly added to the types of services program funds may support. To simplify program administration, the same definition of Indian tribe and tribal organization as is already used in the Child Welfare Services program would apply. Additional information about program spending by service category will be made available to Congress and the public each year, among other reports.
CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 2883 would provide a total discretionary authorization of $2.62 billion and total discretionary outlays of $2.14 billion over the 2012-2016 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts. In addition, the bill would provide for $345 million in direct spending annually. However, this direct spending is already reflected in CBO’s baseline, thus the bill would not increase direct spending relative to the baseline.