Statement: First Focus Campaign for Children Applauds Bipartisan, Bicameral Agreement on Opioid Legislation

Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018—First Focus Campaign for Children is delighted to see bipartisan agreement on tackling the opioid addiction epidemic and helping those affected by it. In June, the House passed H.R. 6, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act by a vote of 396-14. On September 17th, the Senate passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 by a vote of 99-1.

“It is crucial that families and foster youth affected by this devastating crisis get the help they need to overcome opioid addiction and put their lives back on track,” said Bruce Lesley, First Focus president. “We are particularly heartened that this bipartisan bill offers substantive help and hope both sides of the aisle will make children a priority going forward.”

The opioid crisis affects foster children and youth in two ways: First, children enter the child welfare and foster system often as a result of substance abuse by their parents, and secondly, foster youth who age out of care are at an increased risk of substance use disorders. We therefore commend Congress for including numerous provisions in the bipartisan, bicameral opioid package that will improve the lives of foster children and youth impacted by the opioid crisis, including:

  • Continuous Health Insurance for former foster youth: This provision, which corrects a glitch in existing law, allows foster youth who have aged out of care to remain on Medicaid through age 26, regardless of whether they relocate to other states. This provision recognizes the critical importance of health coverage for former foster youth as they transition into adulthood. Earlier this month, First Focus, the State Policy and Advocacy Reform Center, and FosterClub held a congressional briefing on the importance of Medicaid to foster children and youth.
  • Family-Focused Residential Treatment: This provision promotes family-based residential treatment for substance use disorders by requiring the HHS Secretary to issue guidance to states on how they can support such treatment facilities.
  • Recovery and Reunifying Families: This provision promotes the replication of effective recovery coach programs to improve outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system who are impacted by substance use disorders.
  • Family-Focused Residential Treatment: This provision creates a grant program to promote family-based residential treatment programs, which are critical to helping parents and families get the treatment they need to overcome addiction.
  • Plans of Safe Care: This provision provides grants to states to improve and coordinate their response to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of infants affected by substance use.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: This provision gives the Center for Disease Control (CDC) authority to work with states to collect and report data on adverse childhood experiences. It also directs the CDC to form a task force to promote best practices in treating children impacted by trauma and to recommend best practices to federal agencies regarding its coordination and response to substance use disorders and other forms of trauma that affect children and families.
  • At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection: This legislation would ensure that incarcerated youth are simply suspended, rather than terminated, from Medicaid while they are incarcerated. It would require states to automatically restore full eligibility to youth upon release from incarceration, and to take any steps necessary to make sure that youth begin receiving medical assistance benefits immediately.

The Fiscal Year 2019 annual spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (H.R. 6157) includes $3.8 billion for combatting the opioid crisis, and the bill should be signed into law soon. Adequate federal funding for these new programs benefitting our foster children is critical. Looking ahead to Fiscal Year 2020, though, these gains for our children could be jeopardized if Congress fails to lift the budget cap for non-defense discretionary spending established by the 2011 Budget Control Act. If budget caps are allowed, this type of spending will go down by $55 billion. Congress must prioritize children in our federal budget decisions.

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