Opening Statement of the Honorable Nancy L. Johnson, M.C., Connecticut,
Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Resources
Hearing on Increasing State Flexibility in Use of Federal Child Protection Funds
July 20, 2000
Although I greatly admire the 1980 legislation that generated the substantial sums of money we now give to states to operate child protection programs, the legislation has a serious flaw. To simplify somewhat, think of the 1980 legislation as establishing two programs. The first program is a capped and appropriated program that provides funds for preventive and treatment services. In a word, this money is intended to prevent or solve problems that lead to abuse or neglect. The second program is a series of open-ended entitlement programs that support a system for removing children from their homes.
The flaw is this: the service program is capped and appropriated and has therefore hardly grown in two decades, despite the valiant but only partially successful efforts of this Subcommittee under the leadership of Tom Downey to expand the program. By contrast, because the maintenance programs were open-ended, they have grown by leaps and bounds. In nominal dollars, since 1980, the service program has grown by only about $160 million dollars. In other words, the program has barely kept up with inflation and on a per-child basis, has declined greatly. By contrast, the maintenance programs have grown by nearly $4.5 billion dollars. So there you have it - programs for prevention and treatment grow by $160 million over 2 decades while programs for removing children from their home grow by $4.5 billion - by 35 times as much as prevention and treatment programs.
We simply must find ways to allow these maintenance dollars to be used for prevention and services. I have been trying to find ways to achieve this goal for more than a decade. I believe we have now found the answer. Here is what I hope we can do on a bipartisan basis.
First, start slowly. I want to give the Secretary the authority to grant waivers for funding flexibility to not more than 10 states. Five of these waiver programs would involve giving states complete flexibility over the combined funds for prevention and maintenance. These states would know the total amount of federal money they have available at the beginning of the year and would have complete flexibility in spending that money. A second proposal would increase flexibility by allowing states to transfer funds from the maintenance program to the services program.
Second, continue all the entitlements and guarantees for children found in current law. States that agree to participate would have the same level of responsibility for ensuring child safety as they do under current law.
Third, carefully evaluate the programs so that we will know what happens to the money and to children and families. Under my proposal, we will know even more about the children and their outcomes than we do under current law. Moreover, if the programs provide better services to families and better outcomes, we will know that too.
Fourth, guarantee that the states that embark on these waiver experiments can return to the system of open-ended entitlements at any time. To me, the most compelling argument against flexibility has always been that without the open-ended entitlement, a surge in foster care cases would leave the states stranded for funds. Our proposal to allow states to return to the open-ended entitlement should satisfy the very reasonable criticism that we must ensure federal money for removal in emergencies.
We have made great progress over the years in convincing program operators, state officials, and others that more flexibility is needed. Our Subcommittee has introduced several versions of these proposals, has consulted widely with experts, has sponsored meetings, and in general has done everything we could think of to increase support for flexible funding - and to find a proposal that would satisfy both states and child advocates.
We have now produced draft legislation that I think brings us very close to meeting everyone's concerns. After hearing from the General Accounting Office on current innovations in child protection funding, we have asked today's very impressive set of witnesses to provide us with constructive criticism of the legislation. Then it is my plan to move to markup and to the Floor of the House before the 106th Congress ends. With adequate support, we will try to encourage the Senate to take notice of our proposal.
Funding flexibility for the nation's child protection programs is an idea whose time has come.