accept better alternatives to the current IV-E entitlement grows. Of course, the foster care-industrial complex is desperate to get rid of the lookback. They crave what they call “delinking” the way Homer Simpson craves donuts. And both are bad for children. In 2006, the Child Welfare League of America, a trade association for public and private family policing agencies, justified its craving this way: “It is often said that the nation’s foster care and child welfare system is ‘broken.’ In reality, it isn’t broken so much as it has never been fully supported and empowered to function effectively.” 44 The danger that Congress might be suckered into delinking is real: the foster care industrial complex already achieved “delinking”—a phase-out of the lookback—for adoption subsidies. For most adoptions, it no longer applies. That creates another bad incentive. A case for which a state can’t get IV-E reimbursement while the child is in foster care might be eligible for reimbursement if the state terminates children’s rights to their parents (a more accurate description than “termination of parental rights”) and those same foster parents adopt the child. (This incentive is in addition to the adoption bounties discussed below.) TANF: The Child Welfare Slush Fund All this still underestimates the extent to which the funding deck is stacked against families. Because there is one more huge pot of money many states can use for foster care, and in some ways, this is the most immoral perverse incentive of all—TANF. As noted above, TANF replaced AFDC—“welfare as we knew it.” TANF is not an entitlement—so states can build surpluses by cutting people off. The surpluses are supposed to be used to help poor families become self-sufficient. But for many states, there is a loophole that allows them to divert TANF money to foster care, child abuse investigations, and adoption subsidies. In 2020 states poured more than $2.6 billion through that loophole. 45
That’s in addition to the $9.6 billion spent on foster care and adoption under IV-E. Not all of this money is necessarily misspent.
Sometimes TANF money goes to pay relatives for providing kinship foster care. But, at most, that’s 20 percent of the TANF money spent on child welfare. 46 Another $884 million goes to family support, preservation and reunification. But almost all of that can simply be used to displace state spending, and some states have done just that. In other words, poor people are forced to fund their own family preservation/reunification services. 47 But even if you accept all that spending as legitimate, that still leaves $1.4 billion taken out of poor people’s pockets to fund things like foster care payments to strangers, adoption, and child abuse investigations. Money that should have been used to provide low-income child care can be diverted to investigate an impoverished family on a “lack of supervision” charge—because they don’t have child care. In Arizona, the state which probably is the worst offender, a ProPublica story put it this way: ______________ 44 Ibid. 45 Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. “OFA Releases FY 2020 TANF and MOE Financial Data.” Oct. 13, 2021. https://www.acf. hhs.gov/ofa/news/ofa-releases-fy-2020-tanf-and- moe-financial-data#:~:text=In%20FY%202020%2C%20 combined%20federal,education%2C%20and%20 training%20activities%3B%20and
46 Ibid. 47 Ibid.
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