March 13, 2019

Harris, Colleagues Call on HHS to Revoke Waiver Allowing South Carolina Child Welfare Agencies to Discriminate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., on Wednesday joined Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., along with 39 of their colleagues, in an effort to stop the Trump administration from allowing taxpayer-funded discrimination that will deny vulnerable children access to the qualified, welcoming and safe families they deserve.

In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the senators condemned the recent decision by HHS to grant a religious exemption from federal nondiscrimination laws and regulations for state-contracted child welfare agencies in South Carolina. The senators urged HHS to revoke the waiver and refrain from permitting any other similar measures that sanction taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.

“With this waiver, HHS has openly condoned taxpayer-funded discrimination and elevated the religious beliefs of state-contracted foster care providers over the best interest of vulnerable children in the foster care system,” the senators wrote. “With HHS’s stamp of approval, Miracle Hill Ministries and other South Carolina faith-based foster care agencies can now legally turn away qualified foster and adoptive parents just because they do not share the agency’s faith. This unprecedented action runs counter not only to the principles on which the United States was founded, but also to the goals of the foster care system.” 

The waiver granted by HHS will allow child welfare agencies in South Carolina the ability to turn potential foster parents away due to their religious identity and beliefs, reducing the number of available homes at a time when the need for qualified adoptive and foster parents is exacerbated by the opioid crisis. The senators in their letter cite the decision as an infringement on the constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom rights of prospective foster parents, foster children and their biological parents.

Harris, Wyden, Feinstein and Menendez were joined on the letter by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Mark Warner, D-Va., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Tom Carper, D-Del., Chris Coons, D-Del., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Read the full text of the letter here.

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