On Thursday, June 19 Congressman James Langevin (D-RI) introduced the Permanent Families for All Act, legislation that would implement parts of the Annie E Casey child welfare finance proposal. The bill would do away with the current link to the 1996 AFDC program in determining a child’s eligibility for federal foster care funding (de-link) but it would accomplish that by reducing the federal matching funds state receive. Currently the federal government provides a match based on what is called the “FMAP” rate for each eligible child with a state’s match based on an annual formula. A state may get a match of as low as 50 percent (meaning one state dollar brings in one federal dollar) while some states receive a match as high as 80 percent (meaning one state dollar brings in four federal dollars) Under the proposal, states would have that rate reduced accordingly to assure all children in foster care are covered. It would not provide more federal funding but would cover all children in foster care.
In addition the bill would, most controversially, time limit federal coverage of foster care to 36 months in a lifetime under the theory that it will drive states to move children out of foster care quicker. The last AFCARS report indicated that 18 percent of children in foster care (70,000 children) have been in foster care for 36 consecutive months or longer. The AFCARS numbers do not indicate total months in foster care if a child has had several spells in and out of foster care over that child’s lifetime. Under the legislation if a child had a cumulative total of more than three years, federal funding would be cut off.
In another area of controversy the bill would limit institutional care to one year of federal reimbursement. Again the assumption is that a limit on federal funding will drive states to find foster care homes or other placements rather than institional care. Currently 6 percent of children are in group homes (23,000 children) and another 9 percent (34,000) are in institutional care. Again the limit is over a lifetime and the AFCARS measures current spells and not a child’s lifetime experience in care.
While the re-design in funding is based on an argument that changing federal funding will change practice, a recent GAO report shows that nearly six years after the enactment of Fostering Connections to Success, states have had difficulty in finding enough foster homes despite the mandates around keeping siblings together and have also had difficulty in youth placements. States have also been reluctant to expand foster care to age twenty-one despite the 2008 law giving states the option to expand care. A total of 19 states have extended foster care to 21 but 9 states, according to the report, had already extended care before federal funding was available.
Other provisions of the bill would expand caseworker training funds for training ‘on child-focused recruitment and retention.’ It would amend the Higher Education Act to allow child welfare workers to be eligible for loan forgiveness after five years instead of the current ten years. Current loan forgiveness applies if you are in one of a number of public service jobs including child welfare and you work in the same profession for ten years. There is also another five year loan forgiveness program in the Higher Education Act that applies to a number of professions including various teacher categories, child care and Head Start workers as well as child welfare workers but that loan forgiveness program is a discretionary funded program and appropriators have never funded it.
CWLA has expressed concerns to congressional staff regarding the imposition of arbitrary time limits.