The Trump administration is using a 32-year-old law to loosen some restrictions on foster care funding for state child welfare agencies.
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced in a program instruction yesterday that it would greatly ease the process for getting federal funds for extended foster care, and would permit funds for foster homes that have not been fully licensed.
Since 2008, states have been able to use federal funds from the Title IV-E child welfare entitlement to help pay for extended foster care to teens who would otherwise age out at 18. At the end of fiscal 2019, 29 states and Washington, D.C., had federally approved extensions up to age 21. Almost every other state has some version of extended foster care, according to a database maintained by the Juvenile Law Center.
Those federally approved plans require that a teen or young adult in extended care must be pursuing education or employment, or must have a documented impairment that prevents them from doing so.
Under the regulatory notice issued this week, the dozens of states without federal funds for extended care can tap into IV-E by filling out a simple form, as opposed to submitting a formal update to its Title IV-E plan that requires a lengthy review and approval process from the Administration for Children and Families.
And for all states, including those with approved federal plans, the work and education requirements for participation in extended foster care are suspended until the country is no longer enduring a national emergency.
Not included in the changes was a moratorium on aging out at age 21, the upper bound of federal funds for extended foster care. ACF told The Imprint in late March that it could not permit federal dollars to be used for the care of anyone older than 21 without congressional action.
The notice “is a good step for ACF to have taken and states and advocates should move quickly to take advantage of the options,” said Jenny Pokempner, a senior attorney at Juvenile Law Center, in an email to The Imprint. “We now need Congress to act to address the needs of youth in and leaving foster care in the next COVID-19 bill.”
Yesterday’s notice also permits states to seek IV-E funds for youth in foster homes that have only provisional or conditional approval, “if the declared major disaster precludes full completion of the licensing process.” All safety checks must still be completed.
The program instruction also informed agencies that they could temporarily draw funds for qualified residential treatment programs that had not yet received accreditation. This category of group care was created as part of the recently passed Family First Prevention Services Act, and permits longer-term IV-E funding for these options while placing a two-week limit on money for group homes and other congregate care placements.
ACF is using the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which was passed in 1988 and permits the waiving of “administrative conditions” during times of emergency, as the basis for these changes.
John Kelly can be reached at [email protected].