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Committee Reviews Child Protection Proposal

A bill (H.R. 5292) designed to revamp the federal role in child protection was the subject of a hearing held on October 3 by the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

Subcommittee Chair Nancy Johnson (R-CT), sponsor of the bill, stated that she intends to reintroduce the measure in the 107th Congress. With the help of the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), she predicted, “We will be back in this room in February marking up this legislation and finding a way to push it through the Senate and into public law.”

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (P.L. 94-272) implemented several changes to the child protection system in 1980. Under that law, the system functions as two separate programs administered by states and overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). At a hearing held on the same subject in July, Rep. Johnson described the first program as “a capped and appropriated program that provides funds…to prevent or solve problems that lead to abuse or neglect.” She described the second program as “a series of open-ended entitlement programs that support a system for removing children from their homes.” Under the divided system, she said, “the service program has hardly grown in two decades….By contrast, because the maintenance programs were open-ended, they have grown by leaps and bounds” (see The Source, 7/21/00, p. 6).

Under H.R. 5292, two new demonstration projects would be created. Five states would be allowed to participate in the first project, which would block grant the entirety of child protection funds. Participating states would be allowed to decide whether to use the money for prevention efforts or foster care services. The states would operate under a maintenance-of-effort requirement that they contribute at least as much as they spent on child protection in FY1998.

In addition, states would be allowed to determine which adoptive families should receive assistance payments. Current law limits assistance payments to adoptive families in a certain income category. Under the second pilot program, which would also involve five states, the federal funds provided for the prevention program would be based on an estimate by HHS. States would be allowed to transfer unused funds between programs, depending on whether they are needed more for prevention or foster care services.

Rep. Johnson’s bill also would expand the authority of HHS to grant states waivers for experimental efforts to increase the efficiency of child protection programs. Several states have already been granted similar waivers.

Saying that her bill would provide new flexibility for state governments, Rep. Johnson predicted they would “do a better job of preventing the removal of children from their homes.” In addition, she said, states would “increase the quality of their casework and the efficiency of their administrative procedures,” so that decisions will be made more quickly about whether to return children permanently to their original homes. Rep. Johnson also predicted that states would “increase their use of adoption—even above the current very high level.”

Rep. Johnson added that it is not her intention to reduce federal funding for child protection. “Not only do states receive all the money they have coming…but the Congressional Budget Office has consistently scored my proposals as putting additional federal dollars into the child protection system,” she said. H.R. 5292 would authorize $6 million over four years for tracking its effects and conducting research based on that information. “We are nearly certain to learn a great deal about how states react to the new funding flexibility and whether they are, in fact, able to advance child safety, permanency, and well-being,” stated Rep. Johnson.

Testimony was given on behalf of the American Public Human Services Association, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Chapin Hall Center for Children, the Urban Institute, Catholic Charities USA, and the Florida Department of Children and Families. Most witnesses praised the bill and its intent, although some expressed concern that it would not increase federal child protection funds. Sharon Daly of Catholic Charities USA said, “Although this bill may allow states to hold onto more…dollars, real reform of the child welfare system is not possible without substantial additional federal resources.”

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