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Subcommittee Approves Bill to Reauthorize the Safe and Stable Families Program

On September 25, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources gave voice vote approval to legislation (H.R. 2873) that would reauthorize for two years a federal program designed to assist states in providing child protection and foster care services for families at risk. The program is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year.

Sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R-CA), the bill would fund the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program at its current annual level of $305 million. H.R. 2873 would make minor technical changes to the program such as allowing funds to be used to promote healthy marriages and allowing unused funds to be redistributed by the Department of Health and Human Services to other states.

Rep. Herger said that he excluded from the bill new programs proposed by the President “to mentor children of prisoners, to provide education vouchers to children aging out of foster care,” and to provide grants for responsible fatherhood programs. He explained that, given the current budget situation since the September 11 terrorist attack, it would be “irresponsible” to create programs that would require new spending. “Just a few weeks ago we all struggled to keep from spending Social Security funds,” he said. “Today we know any new spending will come right out of Social Security. We simply should not use Social Security dollars to pay for other, non-emergency spending,” he added.

Democrats on the subcommittee contended that the new programs are needed. “We all want to do the right thing,” argued Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the subcommittee’s ranking Member. “We’re not asking for any spending that is not consistent with the budget resolution. I do hope that we look at the rules before us,” he said. “This subcommittee has a responsibility to speak for our nation’s most vulnerable children,” he added.

“Things have changed and we should hold off on any new spending,” responded Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA), adding that welfare rolls are down by 50 percent and “almost every state has surplus funds in the TANF program that they can use.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) expressed concern that the subcommittee did not reauthorize the TANF supplemental grants, which help poorer states that have a greater number of welfare recipients and which expire this year. He added, “If these kids had a good airline lobbyist, they wouldn’t be going home empty-handed.”

Rep. Cardin offered a substitute amendment that would have authorized $1 billion over five years to fund the new programs proposed by the President. The subcommittee rejected, 5-8, the amendment along party lines.

Rep. Cardin withdrew an amendment that would have authorized $300 million over five years for children who age out of foster care. “It’s in the budget, as approved by the President,” he said.

“The program is a good one,” responded Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT). “We do have to let the economy of the country stabilize,” she said, adding, “I do hope that as soon as the fiscal situation is clearer, we can go back to it.”

The subcommittee also approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Phil English (R-PA) that would allow the use of funds under the program to support an infant safe haven program. Based on legislation (H.R. 2018) introduced by Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA), the measure would provide services to encourage mothers who do not want to keep their babies to leave them at a safe place such as a hospital.

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