Bipartisan federal legislation to increase funding for home-visiting programs that serve hundreds of Wyoming families became law Thursday when President Joe Biden signed the $1.7 billion federal spending package.
Home visits involve professionals making house-calls on expectant families and those with newborns to provide support, advice and health checkups. The service is primarily offered to at-risk residents facing challenges like lower incomes or a history of abuse, neglect or drug abuse.
A new law tucked into the federal funding package is the Jackie Walorski Maternal and Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act of 2022, named after the Indiana congresswoman who died in a car accident earlier this year.
The legislation increases the base amount for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program from $300 million annually to $400 million, and provides additional matching grant funding over the next five years.
Why it matters
Studies have shown that certain home visiting programs can translate to better outcomes for children and are cost-effective.
“The largest benefits from evidence-based home visiting come through reduced spending on government programs and increased individual earnings,” a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report found.
The Wyoming Department of Family Services reported that its home-visiting program supported 243 families in the 2020-21 program year.
Who said what
Hundreds of child welfare organizations signed onto a letter in March asking members of Congress for many of the changes that the new law will provide, including doubling the amount set aside for tribes from 3% to 6%.
“Historical and ongoing inequities within [American Indian and Alaska Native] communities have only been amplified by COVID-19,” the letter stated. “Currently, Tribal MIECHV receives $12 million annually for the more than 600 eligible Tribes and Tribal-serving organizations.”
An increase in tribal-specific home-visiting funds could help programs like one on the Wind River Indian Reservation that has faced its own funding troubles in recent years.
Congress created the MIECHV Program in 2010, but it was set to lapse on Sept. 30.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Illinois) introduced the legislation to reauthorize MIECHV and increase its funding on Sept. 19, but the bill didn’t move for nearly two months.
Like many other federal programs, MIECHV hitched a ride with short-term funding packages meant to avoid a government shutdown and buy time for Congress to agree on a larger spending package.
The legislation passed the House 390-26 on Dec. 2 with support from Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney before being lumped into the $1.7 trillion spending package.
That home visiting bill had 186 cosponsors, including 85 Republicans. None were members of the Wyoming delegation.
What comes next
The new resources going to MIECHV programs have some strings attached.
That includes annual reports to support a new “‘outcomes dashboard’ to help Congress and the public track MIECHV’s success in improving family outcomes in every state or territory,” according to House staff.
At the same time, the legislation specifies that it wants to “reduce administrative burden” by focusing more on family outcome data than accounting at local sites.
For tribes specifically, the law aims to lower barriers by “exploring, in consultation with tribes and tribal organizations, ways to reduce administrative burden, respect sovereignty, and acknowledge the different focus points for tribal grantees.”