Hundreds of Orgs Ask for Extension of Federal Program for Young Mothers

Senate and House leadership received a letter today, signed by 750 organizations and local politicians, urging them to maintain a federal program meant to assist struggling young mothers and mothers-to-be.

The Home Visiting Coalition asked leaders in the letter to fund the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at its current level of $400 million “in the lame duck session or as one of the first acts of the 114th Congress before the MIECHV program funding expires in March 2015.”

Certain models of home visitation, such as the nurse-family partnership, have long shown promise in decreasing the need for costlier and more painful interventions down the road.

“We can’t keep making the same mistake over and over again – ignoring the problems children face until they get too big or too bad to manage,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children, in a statement released with the announcement of the letter. “Leaders from across the country are sending a clear message to Congress: act now and avoid costly problems later.”

Before fiscal 2010, home visitation was a sliver in the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2009, the program was appropriated $13.5 million.

Passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009 put home visitation on a far higher trajectory in terms of federal funding. Rebranded as the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV), it was slated for a $1.5 billion investment by HHS between fiscals 2010 and 2014.

Spending on this five-year authorization runs out in March. In the letter to Democrat and Republican leadership, hundreds of signatories asked that MIECHV continue.

From the letter:

Our nation spends billions annually to address a host of health, educational and social challenges that at-risk families face, including poor birth outcomes, child abuse and neglect, childhood cognitive disabilities, and poor school readiness and academic achievement. These conditions, however, can be reduced or prevented at a fraction of the costs with voluntary evidence-based home visiting programs.

In September, Congress approved an extension of MIECHV funding into March of 2015. First Focus spokesman Ed Walz said that while the hope down the line is for a more stable fixture for MIECHV, the current budget caps make that difficult.

The immediate goal, he said, is to attach full-year funding for it to a larger bill, such as the potential omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2015.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told The Imprint before the elections that home visitation would be a priority for the committee after January.

“The evidence we’ve seen is that for at-risk moms, it’s something that works,” Wyden said. “That, to me, is something we ought to build around and expand.”

Wyden moves to ranking minority member in January. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is set to become the new Senate Finance chair.

Click here to read the letter sent by the Home Visiting Coalition.

John Kelly is the editor of The Imprint.

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