Presidential Requestimates: The Past 20 Years of IV-E Projections

If you don’t want to digest an unconscionably dorky, potentially useless amount of information about presidential estimates of the IV-E child welfare entitlements, you should leave now. Stay on The Imprint of course, just maybe click to another article.

Last week, Youth Services Insider fired off a quick summary of President Trump’s budget request for fiscal 2018. That summary has been updated to include 2017 appropriations as well.

In addition to a long list of child welfare- and juvenile justice-related programs slated for elimination or spending cuts, we noted that the budget included a pretty substantial increase in spending on the IV-E entitlements. The larger of those entitlements reimburses states for foster care services provided to certain youth; the smaller entitlement supports adoption subsidies and support for families who adopt foster children.

We heard quickly from several readers who felt strongly that it was nonsense to note this IV-E boost amid the cuts and cutbacks. Many noted, as we did in the story, that IV-E spending is determined by the president and Congress. One even suggested we had spun this budget proposal to make it look good for foster youth and adopted children.

To be clearer than we were in that first rundown: It is entirely likely that the increased IV-E spending is based solely on mathematical projections, and that it is not in any way inspired by a policy agenda. But we have yet to find some hard-and-fast mathematical equation used to set the estimate, and HHS refused to comment in any way about what went into its estimate for IV-E.

What we do know, courtesy of the great child welfare historian Emily Stoltzfus, is that the president projects a IV-E estimate and Congress bases the entitlement’s budget authority on that:

Congress typically provides the amount of Title IV-E foster care funding (or “budget authority”) that the Administration estimates will be necessary for it to provide state or other Title IV-E agencies with the promised level of federal reimbursement for all of their eligible Title IV-E foster care costs under current law.

If the actual amount needed in a given year is higher or lower, it is cleaned up through procedural measures after the fact.

We took a few hours over the holiday weekend to geek out on the historical trends with the IV-E estimates included in the past 20 presidents’ requests – 1998 to 2018 – just to see if there was anything interesting that might jump out.

If anyone actually wants the numbers we crunched, it’s ALL HERE in a spreadsheet. Here are a few notes from the exercise in questionable time use.

The adoption IV-E estimate has risen steadily, while the foster care estimate has been more volatile. The adoption portion increased from its previous year estimate in all but two years during this time frame. The estimate for the foster care portion shifted more often: it declined from the previous year eight times.

The IV-E estimate rose about $300 million during the 13 years where national foster care totals declinedYSI compared the president’s requesting year to the federal AFCARS foster care data issued before it was submitted, which is three years later; for example, the federal data that preceded Trump’s 2018 request was the fiscal 2015 report. Admittedly, this is an inexact science, just a juxtaposition of the request and what information was available at the time it was made.

The foster care population peaked at 567,000 in 1999, according to AFCARS reports, and hit its most recent valley at 397,122 in 2012. During that time frame in presidential budgets – 2002 through 2015 – the IV-E estimate went up $323 million. In six of the 13 years where the most recent AFCARS data showed a decline, there was an estimated increase in the president’s budget.

Trump’s estimate reflects the highest increase in IV-E since 2001. The $8.4 billion estimated by Trump is a $632 million increase from 2017. That is nearly $100 million more than any estimate since the final one made by the Clinton administration in 2001.

Clinton’s estimates between 1999 and 2001 reflected a $2.2 billion increase in IV-E spending. Trump’s estimate comes after two sizable increases projected by the Obama administration. The past three years of presidents’ estimates, 2016-2018, reflect a $1.6 billion swell in IV-E.

The actual IV-E money spent has differed from the president’s estimate. According to Stoltzfus’ numbers on actually obligated IV-E funds, the actual total for 2014-2016 exceed the estimates in the president’s budget by a combined $900 million. Here are the total requests for 2012-2016, compared with what actually got obligated:

2012 Estimate: $6.78b
2012 Actual: $6.48b (-$300m)

2013 Estimate: $6.68b
2013 Actual: $6.41b (-$270m)

2014 Estimate: $6.74b
2014 Actual: $7.2b (+$460m)

2015 Estimate: $6.79b
2015 Actual: $7.1b (+$310m)

2016 Estimate: $7.34
2016 Actual: $7.47 (+$130m)

So recent history suggests that the president’s estimate has been within 10 percent of actual IV-E spending. If the trend reflected in the 2014-16 numbers holds, we could see actual IV-E spending go over $9 billion in 2018.

Spend-to-youth ratio has risen every year since 2009. Now we are getting wayyyy too nerdy. YSI pegged the president’s estimate to the most recent AFCARS total to see, in a very unscientific way, what each spending estimate amounted to on a “per-kid” basis.

In 2001, the figure was $11,200, which with inflation would be about $15,640 today. This year’s estimate is $19,639 per youth, which reflects nearly a $1,000 increase from the final Obama budget. That per-youth ratio has risen in every presidential request since 2009.

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