CHN: Families First Prevention Services Act Introduced

On Tuesday, June 21, the House passed by voice vote the Family First Prevention Services Act (H.R. 5456), introduced in the House by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and others. It had previously been approved by the House Committee on Ways and Means on June 15. Many advocacy groups were supportive of this bipartisan bill, which would allow states to use federal child welfare dollars to pay for family services to prevent children from needing to enter foster care. These services could include mental health services, substance abuse services (including opioid and heroin abuse services), or in-home parenting skills programs (including individual and family therapy). It also supports kin caregivers when parents are not able to take care of their children, and extends and updates other provisions to help abused and neglected children that were set to expire this year. In addition, the bill allows states the option of extending assistance to older former foster youth for things like housing, employment and counseling services, and education and training vouchers. It also creates competitive grants to increase foster parent recruitment.
The controversy surrounding the bill comes from its funding. Advocates and some Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee objected to the fact that the bill is paid for by taking money from states that place foster children in non-family settings, such as group homes or congregate care facilities. This is seen by many as Congress’s continued insistence on reallocating money within the child welfare pot (and in the human needs universe as a whole) rather than using outside offsets or additional revenue to grow the overall pot, which is severely underfunded as is. Advocates were also displeased that there would be a three-year delay in implementation of the new funding in the bill.

The Senate version of the bill (S. 3065) was introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), as well as Senators Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on June 16. For more information, see this piece from the Child Welfare League of America, this in-depth piece from the Children’s Defense Fund, and the bill summary from the House Ways and Means Committee.

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