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Bipartisan Movements in Federal Child Welfare Legislation

CC by 2.0 via flickr user loomingy1

With the 2016 session of the Nebraska Legislature just around the corner, our policy team is gearing up to continue building pathways to opportunity for children in our state. Although much of our work at Voices is centered on advancing policies in the Unicameral, we also monitor federal legislation that impacts how our state systems can better support child well-being. This year, we have been pleased to see several child welfare-related bills introduced in both houses of Congress.

Two bills introduced to the Senate, the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act (S. 1964) introduced by Sen. Wyden (D-OR), and the All Kids Matter Act (S. 1932) introduced by Sens. Bennet (D-CO) and Crapo (R-ID) would make significant changes to federal funding streams for child welfare expenditures to better target prevention and family preservation. While the specific provisions of both bills differ, both notably make child welfare services available to children who are at risk of entering foster care. Encouraging investments in front-end services better ensures that children remain at home with parents or relative caregivers whenever possible. Both Acts seek to build upon the successes of the 29 states (including Nebraska) with Title IV-E demonstration waivers to utilize funding with flexibility and innovation.

Sens. Franken (D-MN) and Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Educational Stability for Foster Youth Act (S. 1639), which seeks to strengthen coordination between state child welfare agencies and educational institutions. Educational challenges are prevalent among foster youth, and provisions of this bill would strengthen certain requirements to work towards greater stability.

The Foster Youth Independence Act (S. 1439) was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Grassley (R-IA) alongside a companion bill brought to the House by Rep. Bass (D-CA) as H.R. 3160. If passed, the Act would allow states who have opted to extend foster care to 21 under the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to continue service provision until age 23. In 2013, LB 216 passed in the Unicameral, creating what is now called the Bridge to Independence (b2i) program. If passed, the Act would give our state the option to extend supports for young people through b2i as they pursue educational and employment opportunities, secure healthcare and housing, and learn to manage their finances.

Rep. Bass (D-CA) introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act (H.R. 3641), which would clarify the application of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to youth who have aged out of the foster care system. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has interpreted the ACA as placing the responsibility of health coverage on the state from which the youth originally aged out of, leaving youth who have moved out of state without reliable health insurance. Since the interpretation has been issued, at least 13 states have already adopted an expansive interpretation through state plan amendments. The language of the Act would mandate that all states provide former foster youth with healthcare, regardless of where they aged out. In 2015, State Sen. Crawford introduced a bill, LB 148, that would have rectified the issue in Nebraska, but the bill remains in the Health and Human Services Committee.

These bills reflect many years of federal and state progress in improving the child welfare system, and promise to bring advances in the near future. Bipartisan efforts in Congress to strengthen families and supports for foster youth demonstrate that there is always more work to be done in ensuring that all children grow up in a safe, permanent, and loving family.

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