April 10, 2020

Harris Leads Push for Protecting At-Risk Children Amid COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Friday led her colleagues in sending a letter to Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, pushing for vital resources for the child welfare system that support vulnerable children and families suffering from abuse and neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring the safety and stability of these households is essential during this crisis.

“We must act swiftly to increase funding to strengthen the systems that prevent and respond to child abuse and address the needs of children, youth, and families in the foster care system,” the lawmakers wrote. “The impacts of COVID-19 are creating challenges for families who are navigating new public health safety protocols, school closures, uncertain childcare arrangements, job losses, social isolation, and significant barriers to many critical support services.”

They continued, “Investing in programs that support families and keep children safe is more important than ever. Existing federal programs with infrastructure and expertise are already in place to address these challenges. However, they currently lack the financial support to effectively combat the new challenges presented by this crisis.”

Joining Harris on the letter are Senators Jones (D-AL), Casey (D-PA), Brown (D-OH), Kaine (D-VA), Reed (D-RI), Hassan (D-NH), Warner (D-VA), Smith (D-MN), Booker (D-NJ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warren (D-MA), Rosen (D-NV), and Merkley (D-OR).

The letter echoes the requests of over 500 national, state, and local organizations.

A full copy of the letter can be found here and below.

April 10, 2020

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

United States Senate

 

The Honorable Charles Schumer

Minority Leader

United States Senate

 

 

The Honorable Richard Shelby

Chairman

United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

 

The Honorable Patrick Leahy

Vice Chairman

United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

 

 

 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Chairman Shelby, and Vice Chairman Leahy:

As you consider an additional emergency recovery package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts, we urge you to provide crucial support to some of America’s most vulnerable children, youth, and families by equipping the child welfare system with the tools it needs to handle this crisis.

We must act swiftly to increase funding to strengthen the systems that prevent and respond to child abuse and address the needs of children, youth, and families in the foster care system. The impacts of COVID-19 are creating challenges for families who are navigating new public health safety protocols, school closures, uncertain childcare arrangements, job losses, social isolation, and significant barriers to many critical support services.  Furthermore, school closures, fewer routine medical visits, and reduced mobility in the community are drastically increasing the difficulty of identifying children suffering from abuse. 

Investing in programs that support families and keep children safe is more important than ever. Existing federal programs with infrastructure and expertise are already in place to address these challenges. However, they currently lack the financial support to effectively combat the new challenges presented by this crisis. We urge you to include the following solutions to support families and ensure vulnerable children are safe as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

We respectfully request that Congressional negotiators act swiftly to:

  • Support families and keep children safe from abuse and neglect.
    • Increase funding for CAPTA Title II Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) grants by $1 billion to deploy resources directly to local prevention services and programs and ensure state and local child protection systems can adapt to these new circumstances. These funds can help provide community-based services in all 50 states to prevent child abuse and neglect.  These services include: state child abuse hotlines, voluntary home visiting programs, parent support programs, baby pantries, food and medication distribution, family resource centers, and respite care services.

    • Increase funding for Title IV-B, Part 2, the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program (PSSF), by $1 billion to help stabilize families, eliminate the need for out-of-home placements, and support foster parents caring for youth. 
  • Apply any FMAP rate increases to the Title IV-E Prevention Program. The recent temporary increase in FMAP passed by Congress applies to Title IV-E Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, and Guardianship Assistance, but excludes the new Title IV-E Prevention Program established under the Family First Prevention Services Act. If the federal funding rate for the IV-E Prevention Program is not commensurately increased, it could incentivize unnecessary foster care placements at a time when disrupting families brings additional dangers.
  • Increase funding for the Social Services Block Grant to help states fill in gaps to social services including child protective services, child abuse prevention supports, domestic violence services, and foster care. These funds are flexible and can be tailored to meet the needs of the community.
  • Strengthen child welfare response systems and support youth in care.
    • Increase funding for CAPTA Title I by $500 million to help ensure the child protection workforce has the necessary technology and PPE to prevent the interruption of crucial support services and adapt to new circumstances.
  • Increase funding for Title IV-E Chafee by $500 million to provide states with the necessary flexibility to expand supports and services for older youth already in, or transitioning out of, the foster care system in the face of this pandemic.
  • Increase funding to the Court Improvement Program (CIP) by $30 million to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of child welfare court cases. CIP is the only source of federal funding for state courts related to child welfare. Court shutdowns will result in delayed hearings, which may lead to compromised child safety, delayed family reunification, and the failure other critical supports to child victims and their families. 
  • Increase funding for the Kinship Navigator Programs by $20 million to provide additional connections to resources designed to help families where grandparents and other relatives are raising children. Increased funding would help respond to the heightened demand for supplies, information, and assistance for these families where caregivers are at high risk of death or severe illness if exposed to the virus.

As policymakers, we must bolster protections for our most vulnerable children and families during this uncertain time. These targeted programs are crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of children, and to help families navigate new challenges throughout this pandemic. We thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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