It happened again, just before Congress left for the summer break on July 31, Congress gave children in foster care their heartfelt support but were much more limited in their financial support. In blocking passage of the child welfare bill, HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act,’ Senator Tom Coburn offered several criticisms of the bill but he used a not uncommon issue when it comes to child welfare, federal spending:
“Lastly, the spending in this bill largely occurs in the first three years, while the reductions in mandatory spending do not provide savings until the second half of the ten year window. As a result this bill violates budget point of order 302(f) because it exceeds Senate Finance Committee allocation under the Ryan-Murray Budget.”
The spending criticism regarding cost was not without irony because hours later a block of a supplement funding request to aide Israel and its maintenance of their iron dome missile defense system was approved before the Senate (and Congress) left until September 8. Originally it had been blocked because the allocation of an additional $225 million in assistance was not paid for and was designated as emergency spending not requiring a cut in other spending—something child welfare legislation in never allowed.
In fact this child welfare bill is paid for and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said it actually generates savings over ten years.
The juxtaposition of members of Congress making sweeping statements of concern and support for children and youth in foster care while only passing legislation that is offset (paid for) by cuts in other child welfare programs or in other human services is not new. In late April of this year, the House Ways and Means Committee passed six tax bills in the same hearing when they passed HR 4058 the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (the same bill delayed in the Senate). The tax bills extended several business-related tax deductions and cost more than $300 billion over ten years and the costs were not offset. The child welfare legislation not only had to be paid for but a section of the bill was pulled because it would cost approximately $1 million a year.
The section in question required states to provide certain documents such as birth certificates and Social Security numbers to youth leaving foster.
Another incongruity is that while Washington is increasingly demanding that human service programs offer rigorous evaluation or evidence based-practices that demonstrate they have their intended impact, no one is arguing that tax credits designed to promote job creation undergo any evaluations let alone evidence-based results.
In fact one of the on-going challenges of the current and recent past discussion of “finance reform” of the way we address child abuse and child welfare services is predicated on a “cost-neutral” basis because there is no money. The challenge is what we can cut in one part of child welfare before we fund what is needed in another part of child welfare services. At a recent national preschool meeting someone offered up a joke about how we could fully fund preschool and they joked that by cutting off funding for teenagers in the last year of k-12 education we could provide the funding for the early years. It was a joke, but at times it seems like a reality for child welfare.