Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently circulated draft legislation that would extend a popular child welfare waiver program.
This development comes as a handful of powerful child welfare agencies have been pushing to stave off implementation of the sweeping Family First Prevention Services Act, and retain the coveted flexibility and dollars that have been hallmarks of the waiver program.
The draft legislation would permit states and counties that currently have waivers to Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the entitlement that pays for foster care and adoption, to keep those in place until 2021. This would afford key jurisdictions who have been pushing for an extension – such as Florida, seven California counties and 18 Ohio counties – a two-year bridge before having to implement the Family First Act, which goes into effect in October 2019.
The Title IV-E foster care entitlement currently provides federal funds for costs related to the placement of youth into foster care, or for subsidies to support families that adopt foster youths. In dozens of states, several counties or cities operate under IV-E waivers that permit them to spend money on other services meant to prevent abuse and neglect, or prevent the use of foster care in some cases.
Family First, which was passed in February of 2018, amends Title IV-E in two key areas. First, it permits child welfare agencies to use federal funds to prevent children from entering into foster care under a tight set of circumstances. Second, it restricts federal funding for group homes and other “congregate care” placements to two weeks, with some notable exceptions.
Several state and local child welfare agencies operating IV-E waivers pushed back against Family First before it passed, claiming that the shift would cost systems millions of dollars currently used for prevention services. Early opponents to Family First included California and New York – both states with county-run systems and large waiver projects – and Florida, which has operated under a statewide waiver since 2005.
These states and others are likely to seek a delay in implementing the Family First Act. But under current law, this delay would revert them to the current status quo of IV-E, because all waivers are scheduled to terminate on September 30, 2019, the day before the Family First Act takes effect.
These states would have no ceiling on federal payments for group care settings, but would lose any flexibility to spend IV-E money on anything other than foster care and adoption.
The discussion bill being circulated would permit any state conducting a IV-E waiver to delay the end of that waiver until 2021. The state would have to submit a plan for using that period to move from the waiver into compliance with Family First.