We want to share the folllowing update from the Children's Defense Fund about the Consolidated Appropriations Act and important provisions for child welfare.

Legislative Update

Last night, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which combines a $1.4 trillion year-end funding package, with a $900 million dollar COVID-19 relief package, and which contains several important provisions for the child welfare system. We are extremely grateful to our partners in Congress and to the advocacy community who worked tirelessly to ensure the needs of children and families were included in this package. This is an important feat to be celebrated, but it is only a first step. While this law contains several critical provisions for children, youth, and families in or at risk of entering foster care, as noted in the summary below, the package does not include crucial funding for key priorities, including the Social Services Block Grant and Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention funding, which will be especially necessary in the coming year as state budgets are impacted by the pandemic. It is important that our community continue to advocate for the needs of children and families through this crisis.

 

Importantly, the bill includes the bipartisan Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R.7947), which was introduced in August by Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN) of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee and reflects many of the recommendations elevated by the child welfare community in the April 10 sign-on letter to House and Senate leadership on the emergency support needed in response to the pandemic. This is a major step forward in the collective advocacy efforts to provide much needed resources to help support struggling families, keep children safe, and help youth thrive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A summary of the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act:

·        Support for Older Youth.

o   Provides an additional $400 million for Chafee for FY2020, of which $50 million is reserved for Education and Training Vouchers (ETV). 

o   Raises the maximum age for eligibility for assistance to age 27 through FY2021.

o   Increases the maximum allowable amount per individual for ETVs from $5,000 to $12,000 through FY2021. 

o   Suspends requirement that a youth be enrolled in a postsecondary education or training program or making satisfactory progress towards completion to be eligible for ETV if youth is unable to do so because of COVID.

o   Clarifies that under these provisions the Chafee ETV vouchers may be used to maintain training and postsecondary education costs.

o   Removes the 30 percent cap in Chafee for housing assistance.

o   Prohibits states from requiring a child to leave foster care solely due to their age to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency.  

o   Permits youth to re-enter care during the COVID public health emergency.

o   Allows jurisdictions to use the new additional Chafee funds to meet any of the costs incurred in complying with the provisions in this bill. In cases where youth are eligible for Title IV-E foster care funds, federal match of administrative and maintenance costs remains available. 

o   Removes the penalty for failing to comply with the data reporting requirements for the National Youth Transition Database for these new funds. 

o   Bars HHS from requiring jurisdictions to provide proof of a direct connection to the pandemic for funds used if doing so would be administratively burdensome or would cause delay or impede the ability to serve youth.

o   There is no state match requirement for these additional funds.

o   These changes are in effect until October 1, 2021.

·        Increases the federal reimbursement for the Title IV-E Prevention Programs. Temporarily increases the federal reimbursement rate up from 50% to 100% for the Title IV-E Prevention Program created under Family First for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency period (January 27, 2020 through September 30, 2021).   

·        Emergency funding for the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. Provides an additional $85 million through FY2021 to Title IV-B, Part 2 the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. There is no state match requirement for these additional funds.

·        Investments for the Court Improvement Program. Reserves $10 million from the additional Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program funds for the Court Improvement Program, with $500,000 reserved for Tribal court improvement activities. These funds shall be used for activities related to COVID-19, such as technology investments, trainings to facilitate remote hearings, and programs to help families avoid delays in legal proceedings as a result of COVID-19. 

·        Strengthening Kinship Navigator Programs. In order to help reach more kinship caregivers raising children, particularly those who are older and more susceptible to the virus, the bill improves the ability of Kinship Navigator Programs to provide critical supports to these families. 

o   Temporarily waives the evidence-based requirement tied to Title IV-E reimbursement for these programs through the COVID-19 public health emergency period (January 27, 2020 through September 30, 2021)

o   Allows funds to be used to carry out a kinship navigator program, including:

§  evaluations, independent system review and related activities;

§  short-term support for direct services or assistance; and 

§  to ensure that kinship caregivers have the information and resources to allow kinship families to function at their full potential, including access to information and resources for necessities (i.e. food, safety supplies, testing and treatment for COVID-19), access to technology to support remote learning or other activities that must be carried out virtually due to COVID, health care and other assistance (including legal assistance and assistance with making alternative care plans for the children in their care if the caregiver is unable to care for the children), services to kin (including for those outside of the formal child welfare system), and assistance to allow children to continue safely living with kin.

o   There will be 100% federal reimbursement for these funds.

·        Provides flexibilities for home visiting programs to continue serving families safely. Allows virtual home visits to be considered home visits, ensures funding will not be reduced on account of reduced enrollment, and that funds can be used for training on virtual visits, enrolling families, and providing emergency supplies to families. This bill also delays deadlines tied to the MIECHV program, including the statewide needs assessment, waiving performance measures, or allowing alternative data sources to show improvement in performance.  

·        Provides adjustments of funding certainty baselines for the Family First Transition Act funding certainty grants so that temporary FMAP increases don’t reduce grant amounts and offers a technical correction to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to ensure the District of Columbia receives the enhanced FMAP rate. 

 

The bill also includes the bipartisan Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (H.R.4300/S.2803), which was introduced by Representatives Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Michael Turner (R-OH), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Steve Stivers (R-OH) in the House and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in the Senate. The bill makes it easier for youth aging out of the child welfare system who are at risk of homelessness to access Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers by allowing them to apply for housing assistance prior to aging out of care and giving them top priority when furnishing housing assistance. Additionally, the bill

  • Streamlines access to FUP vouchers for Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) in more communities, making it easier to serve foster youth anywhere they live;
  • Extends a foster youth’s FUP voucher for up to an additional 24 months as they are working toward self-sufficiency, including participating in a Family Self Sufficiency program; 
  • Requires coordination between PHAs and Public Child Welfare Agencies to identify eligible recipients and help housing agencies to connect youth to supportive services; and  
  • Requires PHAs to submit information to the Secretary to monitor program outcomes.

 

Additionally, the bill contains:

  • $20 million for developing, enhancing, and evaluating kinship navigator programs
  • $2.75 million for the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse
  • $25 million for the FUP voucher program, with $20 million set aside for young people
  • $5 million to expand the supply of intergenerational dwelling units for elderly caregivers raising children
  • $50 million for Project AWARE to build capacity in schools to address trauma and mental health needs
  • $10 million for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
  • A technical fix to the Court Improvement Program to simplify reauthorization
  • A streamlining of the FAFSA program to make it easier for foster youth to access financial aid for higher education
  • Increased appropriations for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Family Violence Prevention and Services