WASHINGTON, June 26 -- The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee issued the following news release:
Today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Sandy Levin, D-Mich., announced the completion of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980).
This bipartisan legislation reflects agreements reached between the House and Senate negotiators, reconciling differences on three bills previously approved by the House (H.R. 1896, H.R. 3205, and H.R. 4058) and the Senate Finance Committee (S. 1876, S. 1877, and S. 1878). The legislation is fully paid for, and includes numerous provisions that will encourage states to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking among youth in foster care, empower and promote normalcy for foster youth, quickly move more children from foster care into adoptive homes or the homes of relatives, and increase the amount of child support provided to families in which one parent is outside of the U.S.
The following are key provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which was introduced in the House today by Chairman Camp and Ranking Member Levin, accompanied by Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas:
Title I: Protecting Youth at Risk of Sex Trafficking
* Requires state child welfare agencies to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for children in foster care or who are otherwise involved in the child welfare system who are victims of child sex trafficking or at risk of becoming victims.
* Requires state child welfare agencies to promote "normalcy" for youth in foster care so these children can more easily participate in age appropriate social, scholastic and enrichment activities.
* Allocates $3 million per year starting in 2020 to states to support foster youth's participation in activities, such as by paying youth sports team fees or the cost of getting a driver's license.
* Ends "Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement" (APPLA) for foster youth under age 16, thereby ending the practice of deeming young children as expected to age out of foster care; for tribal youth, this change is effective after three years.
* Requires states to regularly review the permanency goal for children over the age of 16 with an APPLA designation and ensure such youth are able to engage in age-appropriate activities;
* Requires children age 14 and older (down from age 16) to be involved in their case planning, including by consulting with trusted adults of the child's choosing.
* Requires states to provide children in foster care with a list of their rights.
* Requires states to provide children who emancipate after being in foster care for at least 6 months with (1) a birth certificate, (2) a social security card, (3) health records and insurance information and (4) a driver's license or state ID.
Title II: Improving Adoption Incentives
* Improves the adoption incentives program and extends it for three years.
* Among other changes, uses the rate of increase in adoptions to judge state performance instead of the number (this would ensure that incentives are rewarded based on continued improvements in performance as foster care caseloads decline).
* For the first time provides incentive awards for guardianship placements, while providing larger incentives to states for increasing adoptions of older youth who are the hardest to adopt.
* The new award structure and other changes would be phased in over three years, increasingly prioritizing recent improvement over past performance in increasing adoptions and guardianship placements.
* Extends the expiring Family Connection Grants demonstration program for one additional year.
Title III: Improving International Child Support Recovery
* Requires states to make necessary changes to implement the Hague Convention in enforcing international child support cases, increasing the amount of child support collected for families.
* Requires data standardization within the child support enforcement program, improving administration. This would streamline the child support programs with TANF, child welfare, Unemployment Insurance and SNAP.
* Requires all states to implement electronic processing of income withholding, as most states already do; this will improve the collection of child support and save taxpayers $48 million over 10 years.
* Creates a task force to explore ways to improve the effectiveness of the child support enforcement program.
Overall, the entire bill would save $1 million over 5 years and $19 million over 10 years.
Wyden said: "This legislation will ensure no state turns a blind eye to child sex trafficking by requiring child welfare systems to identify victims and build a systemic response. It also helps build the bridges to permanent families and stable relationships, which are key to protecting children from predators. I am committed to seeing this effort cross the finish line quickly so vulnerable children in foster care don't end up in the streets, homeless shelters or the juvenile justice system where they are more likely to fall victim to pimps and traffickers. I am also pleased to see the bipartisan improvements made to the bill after its passage and honored to be able to complete the earlier work of now-Ambassador Baucus."
Hatch said: "This bill takes crucial steps to improve the lives of children and youth in the foster care system who are vulnerable to sex trafficking and other negative outcomes. I am pleased that a number of provisions I introduced last year in my bill, "I O Youth," are included in this bipartisan and bicameral agreement. While there is more to be done to reform child welfare, this bill takes a critical step forward. I am encouraged that both sides have come together to make these important changes and I look forward to quick passage of this bill. Thousands of at risk children and youth are counting on us to get it done."
Camp said: "Children in foster care deserve a place to call home, not just for a few months or years but for good. Having focused on adoption since arriving in Congress--and having helped create the Adoption Incentives program--I know by providing states with incentives for adoptions we can encourage them to do more to help these children. We have already seen great progress in increasing adoptions since this program was created in 1997, and it is our hope to continue this progress with this bill. This bill also includes critical reforms involving preventing sex trafficking and improving normalcy among youth in foster care, as well as provisions that will ensure children receive the financial support they need from their parents, including if one parent has moved overseas. I encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill in the House, and I hope the Senate will also act soon so we can continue to move even more foster children into permanent homes."
Levin said: "This bipartisan legislation takes important steps to safeguard the well-being of at-risk children by protecting them from exploitation, promoting permanent homes for foster children, and strengthening the enforcement of child support obligations across international borders."
Reichert said: "No child should ever have to experience the horrors of sex trafficking--especially those in foster care whom we have pledged to protect. For too many kids in foster care, we are not living up to that promise today. We owe it to these children to ensure our nation's foster care system does all it can to protect them so they can live safe, happy, and successful lives. This bill will not just ensure states protect these children from sex trafficking, but it will also ensure youth in foster care experience a real childhood and enjoy those things every child should have the opportunity to do, such as being involved in school activities, playing sports, and spending time with friends. This legislation represents an important step forward in improving the lives of our most vulnerable children, and I hope the House and Senate will act on this bill without delay.
Doggett said: "Much more is needed to protect vulnerable children, but this bill represents a constructive step forward."
The text of the legislation is available here (http://waysandmeans.house.gov/UploadedFiles/CST_Adoption_CSE_Introduction_062514.pdf).
A CBO score of the legislation is available here (http://waysandmeans.house.gov/UploadedFiles/CBO_Estimate_HR_4980_Preventing_Sex_Trafficking_20140626.pdf).
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