following a similar panic in 1998, before the waiver. 38 From the beginning, the family policing establishment, including groups like the Children’s Defense Fund and the Center for Law and Social Policy, were hostile to waivers. 39 Why would they oppose waivers and support Family First? Because Family First is an add- on—that is, the prevention funding comes on top of the existing open-ended entitlement, waivers ended the entitlement in those states that accepted them. And, as will be discussed further below, nothing is more sacrosanct to the family policing establishment than the foster-care entitlement. The Importance of “The Lookback” Earlier, I noted that IV-E reimbursement is available only for eligible cases. What makes a case eligible? When Title IV-E was established, foster care funds were made available if the child’s own family was poor enough at the time to qualify for welfare—that is, Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Since family policing targets poor people, that was a lot of families. But AFDC no longer exists. It was replaced in 1996 by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), something discussed further below. But the rule linking IV-E eligibility to AFDC 1996 income limits was never changed— and there has been no adjustment for inflation. Again, consider a hypothetical case: Suppose in state x, back in 1996, you could only get AFDC if family income was less than $10,000 per year. That means IV-E would pay for foster care only if the child came from a family earning less than $10,000 per year. But it’s been 26 years since AFDC was abolished. Adjusting for inflation, $10,000 then is more than $18,219 today. But the rule still stands: In state x, a child is eligible only if his own family, his real family, has less than $10,000 in income.
This is bizarre, it is confusing, it is clumsy to administer—and it is wonderful . Simply because of inflation, the number of families with less than that hypothetical $10,000 per year almost always is decreasing. That doesn’t mean poverty is decreasing, but because there’s no inflation adjustment, the number of cases eligible for reimbursement is likely to decline ever so slightly year after year after year. According to one estimate, in 2000, four years after AFDC was abolished, 58 percent of all cases were eligible, 41 by 2018, it probably was about 46 percent. 42 This means that, in theory, if absolutely nothing changes, in roughly 31 years, the federal government won’t be funding foster care anymore! That’s probably optimistic. Another estimate found that the proportion of eligible cases was already down to 45 percent by 2006 43 — suggesting that, if nothing changes, the federal government will keep paying for a lot of foster care for a very long time. But all this also means there is at least one upside to the current high rate of inflation. There also is a shorter-term benefit. Every year this continues, the pressure on states to ______________ 38 For entry data concerning the current Florida foster- care panic, which started in 2014, see HHS, supra, note 12. Earlier entry data are no longer readily available online, but are available from NCCPR. See also NCCPR’s reports on Florida child welfare, beginning with Shadow on the Sunshine State , in 2000: https://nccpr.org/nccpr- florida-reports/ 39 Wexler, Richard. “Foster care finance reform: The charge of the ‘Yes, but…’ brigade.” NCCPR Child Welfare Blog . https://www.nccprblog.org/2010/07/foster-care- finance-reform-charge-of.html 40 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm 41 Scarcella, Cynthia Andrews, et. al. The Cost of Protecting Vulnerable Children V: Understanding State Variation in Child Welfare Financing . The Urban Institute, May 2006. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/ publication/50536/311314-The-Cost-of-Protecting- Vulnerable-Children-V.PDF 42 Rosinsky, Kristina. “Child Welfare Financing SFY 2018: A survey of federal, state, and local expenditures.” ChildTrends , March 2021. https:// www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/ ChildWelfareFinancingReport_ChildTrends_March2021. pdf 43 Child Welfare League of America, Ten Years of Leaving Foster Children Behind, July, 2006. https://thehill.com/ sites/default/files/TENYEARS...TheReport_0.pdf
64 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022
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