Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families
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At a time when Capitol Hill is divided and dysfunctional, the bipartisan, bicameral commitment to pass and implement federal child welfare funding reform is as inspiring as it is rare. Earlier this month, leaders in the House and Senate filed identical Family First Transition Act bills that address three of the most significant concerns children’s advocates have raised. As state association executives in Illinois and Indiana, we’re particularly proud that House Ways and Means Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny DavisDaniel (Danny) K. DavisMore than 100 Democrats press Trump to extend jobless benefits Democrats urge Treasury to assist Social Security recipients who miss key coronavirus payment deadline Democrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people MORE (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiLawmakers press CDC for guidance on celebrating Halloween during pandemic More than 100 lawmakers urge IRS to resolve stimulus payment issues Scaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach MORE (R-Ind.) are showing the nation how Midwesterners can successfully work across the aisle on issues of national importance.

In February 2018, Congress passed the Families First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) – the first major overhaul of federal child welfare funding in a decade. Among other things, the bill extends federal reimbursement to help struggling families avoid foster care and establishes reimbursement criteria for residential treatment. Since its passage, Davis and Walorski and Senate Finance Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results MORE (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) have been engaged in implementation preparation and community conversations to ensure the law’s success.

For many years, children’s advocates have promoted a prevention-focused child welfare practice like the framework laid out in the FFPSA. However, we were concerned that some technical aspects of FFPSA could unintentionally undermine our shared goals of safer, healthier families. To their credit, House and Senate leaders heard these concerns and introduced the Transition Act.

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The Transition Act does three important things to help the nation’s child welfare professionals support families and assist children who have experienced abuse and neglect recover and reach their full potential. First, the Transition Act helps states adopt services with the strongest evidence of success by giving them more time to identify and implement the best services to meet their prevention goals. FFPSA requires states to use programs with proven effectiveness to get federal dollars, and the Transition Act gives states needed flexibility as they shift to these evidence-based programs.

Second, the Act will provide states with FFPSA implementation funds. Davis and Walorski and their colleagues in the Senate have identified $500 million to support states and their child welfare communities prepare for implementation. The funds can be used to help identify evidence-based programs or improve the evidence for them, help residential agencies meet new federal guidelines, and garner input from children and families who are receiving or have received child welfare services. Federal investment is vital to ensure that states and their provider partners have the resources and capacity they need to successfully implement FFPSA so that children and families nationwide can benefit.

Finally, the Transition Act will provide guarantees to states that had more flexibility in spending their federal child welfare funds. More than half of states, including Illinois and Indiana, participated in a waiver program that guaranteed a certain percentage of child welfare funding for a wider array of services, including prevention services, than non-waiver states. Coinciding with FFPSA, the waiver program ended and was not renewed. This left waiver states with no guarantee of federal funds and many with no infrastructure for accessing the traditional reimbursement process. Recognizing states need time to modernize or rebuild their federal reimbursement systems, the Transition Act provides a two-year guarantee for former waiver states. For the first year, a former waiver state would receive at least 90 percent of their guaranteed waiver funding, dropping to 75 percent in the second. This guarantee will provide former waiver states time to ensure that a shift to FFPSA does not result in a loss of funding that puts successful programs at risk of termination.

The work that Davis and Grassley and Walorski and Wyden are doing to make sure FFPSA is successful is Capitol Hill at its best. Children and families benefit when solutions are bipartisan and bicameral and responsive to the concerns of states and advocates. At a time when too many federal efforts are mired in dysfunction, the story of FFPSA and its advocates in the House and Senate is one that deserves praise. It doesn’t surprise either of us that one issue on which Capitol Hill can truly unify is ensuring that families and children who have experienced abuse or trauma can rebuild their lives and fully participate in the economic and community wellbeing of their states.

Chris Daley is executive director of the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy and Andrea Durbin is the chief executive officer of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth.