Congress Passes Spending Package But Child Priorities Remain Undone

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WASHINGTON — With work on its last must-pass priority nearly complete, Congress will adjourn in the coming weeks without finishing work on a number of bills related to children.

Without action, the bills will need to be re-introduced in the new Congress to have a chance at passage. The bills include child welfare, child nutrition, juvenile justice and education legislation.

The House did take action this week to pass a continuing resolution, a spending package that would fund the federal government at current levels through late April of 2017.  The bill now is headed to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

This measure head off a government shutdown but means lawmakers will have to pass another stop-gap measure in just a few months if they cannot pass a more comprehensive spending package.

The continuing resolution does not include the Family First Prevention Services Act (HR 5456, S 3065), sweeping child welfare legislation that would have given states more flexibility to use foster care funding to keep families together, including by paying for substance use treatment for parents.

Supporters had urged lawmakers to include Family First in the continuing resolution, in a long-shot bid to get it through this year.

The bipartisan bill has had a tumultuous history. Just a few weeks ago it seemed poised for passage as part of the 21st Century Cures Act but ultimately was stripped from that legislation before it passed the House.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a lead sponsor of the Family First legislation, said he was “infuriated and heartbroken” by its exclusion when the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act earlier this week.

“Today the Senate squandered an opportunity to pass legislation that would have offered new hope for hundreds of thousands of America’s most vulnerable children and families,” he said in a release.

In addition, Congress will adjourn without taking final action on:

  • a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (HR 5963);
  • a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act; and
  • a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

Negotiations on the child nutrition bill finally fell apart earlier this week. House and Senate lawmakers had proposed very different bills, and negotiators were unable to reach common ground.

“In the end, we were not able to reach a bipartisan, bicameral compromise.  It is unfortunate that certain parochial interests and the desire for issues rather than solutions were put ahead of the wellbeing of vulnerable and at-risk populations and the need for reform,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, said in a release.