Congress to Consider Foster Care Cap

Child Welfare League of America
Wednesday, 2 July 2003

Federal Title IV-E foster care funds could be capped, or block granted, as Congress acts on a White House proposal that may be introduced in July. As this very important debate in Congress begins, your elected officials need to hear from you that any plan to block grant foster care funding as an alternative to the current funding structure must be opposed. CWLA's position, based upon the input received thus far from our membership, is that comprehensive reform is needed to ensure that the federal government participates fully with the states in meeting our fundamental obligation to America's most vulnerable children and families. It is also our belief that while the current child welfare financing system is inadequate to provide the safety, permanence, and well-being that federal law requires, the option being proposed will place us even further from meeting those ends and must be rejected.

Some details about the White House proposal have emerged from various public forums. As more details of the legislation are available, a complete analysis of the proposal will be sent to you. However, based upon briefings conducted by HHS officials, it is our understanding that under the proposal each state would have an option to receive a fixed, predetermined allocation, or block grant, of Title IV-E foster care maintenance payments, administrative costs, and training funds. If a state decided to accept this option, they would receive a set amount of funding for five years with no option of returning to the current funding system, even if caseloads or costs dramatically increase. The formula for each state's fixed allotment would be based on a projected five-year cost estimate that is based upon a continuing link with 1996 AFDC standards, thereby resulting in an amount correlated to a smaller eligible population. In exchange for a state's agreement to freeze funding at this level, states would have the flexibility to use these funds for foster care, prevention services, and any other child welfare service, and would no longer have to determine eligibility for individual children.

CWLA encourages reform but strongly opposes this proposal to cap, or block grant, foster care funding as an alternative means of providing federal support for the nation's child welfare system. The White House proposal does not represent a valid national reform effort, as it does not offer the significant changes needed nationwide to improve the child welfare system and to ensure that all children are protected. Instead, by capping the federal level of support, the proposal completely eliminates the long-held belief that the federal government has a vested interest in ensuring the appropriate level of federal support for all children in foster care.

While perhaps attractive in the short-run due to the possibility of receiving more resources in the first two years and obtaining additional flexibility, the proposal will ultimately fail in the vast majority of states. This failure will result from the fact that most states are experiencing under-resourced child welfare systems, high numbers of children in out-of-home care, and inadequate current levels of investment in prevention programs-factors that more than offset the limited benefits of the White House's proposal. It would also be difficult in the future to increase the capped funding that is being offered, as Congress will be facing a mounting federal deficit and making choices about federal priorities. It is also unlikely, as contemplated by the current proposal, that the formula for emergency relief for an individual state would be triggered due the requirement that a state must meet both a dual national and state threshold.

CWLA believes that a new, more complete approach to shared state and federal funding should be implemented that hinges on an improved system of shared financing responsibilities among federal, state, local, and tribal governments. In the meantime, while recognizing the inadequacy of the current program, we reiterate that it is essential to maintain basic Title IV-E entitlements until a more effective financing method is proposed, tested, and proven effective as a viable national alternative. CWLA believes that Congress has a unique opportunity to reform the current child welfare system to implement needed improvements in services, workforce, and training. This is an opportunity for Congress to focus on the need for real reform to protect all children from abuse and neglect.

In the coming weeks, CWLA will continue to reach out to its membership in an effort to help develop a comprehensive reform proposal.

ACTION REQUIRED:

CALL OR VISIT YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS. You can reach all Congressional offices in DC through the Capitol switchboard at 202/224-3121.

MESSAGE:

Tell your U.S. Representative and Senators to OPPOSE any proposal that would convert foster care funding into a block grant and eliminate the federal guarantee of entitlement funding.

Tell your U.S. Representative and Senators to provide and support a comprehensive reform of the federal, state, and local child welfare financing partnership so that America's children across each state in the nation can be ensured consistent and adequate levels of safety, protection, and care.

For more information, or to contact Child Welfare League of America, see their website at: www.cwla.org

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