Monday, December 10, 2007

Proposed Legislation Would Eliminate Funding Lookback

In November, Representative Shelly Berkley (D-NV) introduced the important Partnership for Children and Families Act (H.R. 4207), which would expand the federal/state partnership for foster and adopted youth through the federal Title IV-E program.

Eliminating Income Links for Title IV-E

Under current law, a foster child is eligible for federal Title IV-E support only if his family meets the income test of the 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Eligibility for Title IV-E adoption assistance is also linked to AFDC eligibility or eligibility for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. For both adoption assistance and foster care maintenance, the Partnership for Children and Families Act would eliminate the AFDC income eligibility restriction. It would also eliminate the SSI eligibility requirement for adoption assistance.

Now more than 10 years old, the AFDC standard has never been adjusted for inflation. Because of this lookback, thousands of abused and neglected children no longer receive support from the federal government—between 1998 and 2004 an estimated 35,000 fewer foster children were eligible for federal IV-E support. (Download detailed report on the lookback.)

During that same period, the decrease in IV-E-eligible children translated into an estimated $1.9 billion loss in federal support to the states. States must support all children in foster care, regardless of income. Thus, states have less funding for other services—such as family support and preservation services, programs to safely reunite children with their families, or efforts to find new adoptive or guardianship families.

Linking federal foster care support to AFDC also requires staff to spend time determining families’ incomes as of 1996. Precious time and money are wasted determining eligibility—resources that would be far better spent protecting children and ensuring that they leave foster care to permanent families.

Supporting Reinvestment

The bill would also allow states to reinvest saved federal foster care funds in other child welfare services if the state reduces its foster care population from an approved baseline. Currently federal funds are lost when states reduce their caseloads. With this bill, the federal and state dollars saved could instead be invested into services that children and families need, including:

▪Services that reduce the need for foster care entry, including family support and preservation services.

▪Intensive reunification services for children in foster care.

▪Services for children who leave care to return to their parents, live with relatives, or are adopted by new families so that children do not re-enter foster care.

This legislation is long overdue. It's time for the federal government to partner with states to support all children, not just those born to the poorest families.

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