Congress Leaves Without Final Action on Several Youth Services Priorities

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WASHINGTON — Congress will not be back in session until after the election, leaving the fate of several proposals geared toward youth and families up in the air.

Lawmakers left town Thursday without acting on an overhaul of child welfare funding and updates to child nutrition and juvenile justice programs.

While the House and Senate will return in mid-November for a lame duck session, lawmakers will have limited days to work through any remaining items on their agendas before the session ends.

Lawmakers did pass a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government until Dec. 9, avoiding a potential government shutdown when the new fiscal year began Saturday. Ultimately, they’ll have to approve a long-term spending plan for the year.

“The government funds so many programs that are crucial for kids,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children, in a news release. “While we are glad that a government shutdown has been averted, we know that a full budget deal is better for kids. A long-term spending package ensures funding for services that are critical to support and improve the well-being of America’s children.”

The continuing resolution includes $37 million on an annual basis for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a law passed this summer that aims to fight the heroin and opioid epidemic. The law expands community grant programs to address local drug crises, expands grants for state addiction treatment services and improves access to medications that reverse overdoses. The law authorizes $181 million annually.

[Related: Proposed Federal Bill Would Create New Job Programs for Opportunity Youth]

No action on Family First Act

Meanwhile, the Senate did not take up the Family First Prevention Services Act (HR 5456, S 3065), a bill that would give states more flexibility to use foster care funding to keep families together and avoid child welfare involvement. The bill’s provisions include paying for substance use treatment for parents.

The House passed the bill in June.

The bill has become a flashpoint in the world of child welfare, with hundreds of organizations voicing their support for its provisions and urging passage by the end of the fiscal year. However, advocates and officials in some states have objected to the bill, worrying it would undermine their own efforts to curb child welfare involvement or over-restrict the use of group homes although they agree with its overall principle.

The outlook for the bill now is grim because the beginning of the new fiscal year raises questions about how the bill’s costs will be paid for, supporters have said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said lawmakers missed a “critical opportunity.”

“This bill was recognized by its champions as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to direct our nation's social services toward truly supporting child and family well-being,” said Benard P. Dreyer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a news release. “Children and youth in the foster care system deserve better than to be left behind because of the objections of a few special interests,”

Other bills

The House and Senate also have yet to act on an update to federal child nutrition programs. Committees in each chamber have passed a bill (HR 5003, S 3136), but neither has reached the floor, making the outcome for the legislation this year very uncertain.

While the Senate bill has the support of after-school advocates and anti-hunger organizations, the House bill has far less support from those constituencies.

The Senate also did not act yet on an update to the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act, which cleared the House last week. The House and Senate versions (HR 5963, S1169) of the legislation are largely similar, and supporters are hopeful the Senate will act this year.

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