Movement on another round of coronavirus-related relief has picked up again, and it does look good for at least some sizable child welfare provisions to make the final package.
“We’re feeling hopeful about some child welfare provisions making into the final package,” said Aubrey Edwards-Luce, senior director of child welfare and juvenile justice for First Focus on Children.
Following is a quick rundown of where things stand.
The most recent version of the HEROES Act, the House bill, includes a laundry list of child welfare supports with known spending of about $885 million, with additional changes to the Title IV-E entitlement that could mean more for certain states. Here are the child welfare-related provisions, mostly imported from a House Ways and Means Committee bill written in August:
Independent Living and College Aid: A $350 million boost to the former, and $50 million more for the latter via the John Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. The maximum college voucher would go up from $5,000 to $12,000, and could be used by any current or former foster youth up to the age of 27.
“Aging Out” Prevention: Requires that states with a federally-funded extension of foster care to age 21 (just over half of states fit that description) must allow those young adults to remain in care for the time being. And if they have already aged out since the pandemic began, a state must allow them to return to care.
The federal funds for extended foster care flow from Title IV-E, the main child welfare entitlement. For those older foster youth who are not eligible under the rules of IV-E, the bill permits states to use their Chafee independent living money to prevent them from aging out during the coronavirus pandemic.
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act: Adds $225 million for community-based prevention grants, $100 million for state grants, and another $100 million for family violence prevention grants.
Family First Act: For states that have been approved under the act to receive foster care prevention funds through Title IV-E, the match has temporarily been removed – the feds will pay 100% of the costs. Only a handful of states have been approved, and this provision runs through September of 2021, so it is likely to benefit a few systems. Most states have elected to delay implementation of Family First through 2021.
One Family First-related provision that more states can tap into pertains to kinship navigators, the one-stop-shop programs that connect relatives and other kinship caregivers to supports and resources. The HEROES Act temporarily suspends evidence-based thresholds that have so far prevented any kinship navigator models from being approved under Family First, and it eliminates match requirements, making them 100% fundable by the feds during the pandemic.
Title IV-B: A federal account that can be used for everything from family preservation services to post-adoption support, the HEROES Act includes a total boost of $160 million ($75 million for Part 1, $85 million for Part 2).
The bill includes several big investments in family services outside the traditional scope of child welfare systems. The biggest is a $57 billion spend on child care support, a major need for low-income families that continue to face enormous financial challenges and unstable employment pictures. Head Start programs, another major source of child care for low-income families, gets a $1.7 billion increase.
Home visiting, already a $400 million annual spending line in the federal budget, gets another $100 million to spread out to states. The bill also relaxes rules on these models, which traditionally send trained workers into the homes of new and expecting parents to help out during pregnancy. Since such in-person visits continue to be a risk in many parts of the country, virtual and remote activities are sanctioned during the pandemic.
There is also about $90 billion in the HEROES Act that in various ways goes to housing stability, which of course can be a major protector against child welfare involvement. Both chambers had a version of a bill that would specifically carve out a fund to prevent family and youth homelessness, but that is on the outside looking in at the moment in terms of the HEROES Act.
On the juvenile justice front of the HEROES Act, $75 million would go to states to help with better testing, cleaning and coronavirus prevention tactics for juvenile justice systems. Another $100 million is slated for “juvenile justice programs,” though it appears only half of that is for juvenile justice and the other half goes for supporting victims of child abuse.
Finally, the bill has $518 million for youth-related workforce activities, with preference given to funding for youth and young adults who have “multiple barriers” to gaining employment.
So that is the Democratic-led House version, which clocks in at a total of $2.2 trillion. Much of the negotiations on pandemic relief have been conducted between the House of Representatives and the White House, with the Senate taking a bit of a backseat. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin offered up a $1.62 trillion package.
There was little in the way of public details, but if Mnuchin’s pitch is anything like the Senate Republican’s coronavirus relief bill, the HEALS Act, there isn’t much in there for child welfare or juvenile justice. The HEALS Act, which is a package of several Republican coronavirus bills includes a $50 million boost to Chafee to help with youth aging out of foster care, $50 million for child abuse prevention and treatment, and about $85 million in other child welfare expenditures. There is basically no juvenile justice support, and far lower spending planned for youth workforce help, child care and housing stability.
However, a piece in Roll Call today noted that Mnuchin’s new pitch would include “$5 billion for child welfare services,” so that raises the specter that his attempt to meet Democrats closer to the $2 trillion mark includes more funds to help vulnerable youth and families.