I want thank the Chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee for yielding and for his support of this very important issue. I rise in support of this legislation, which is designed to encourage the adoption of more children from foster care, among other purposes.
I have spent much of my professional career promoting adoption of children by loving parents, because every child deserves a loving and safe home. As an attorney in private practice, I worked with parents and children in the foster care system. Those sorts of experiences provided much of the background for changes in landmark adoption legislation. In 1997, my colleagues and I on the Ways and Means Committee crafted the Adoption and Safe Families Act. That legislation streamlined the adoption process to help more children in foster care quickly move into permanent adoptive homes. It also for the first time offered incentives to states to safely increase the number of children adopted from foster care.
It worked. In the decade following that legislation, the number of U.S. children adopted from foster care increased by 71 percent. In the years since, adoptions have continued to remain higher even as the foster care caseload started to decline. Overall, almost 300,000 children have been adopted as a result of the increase in adoptions starting in 1997. One study even estimated the federal government saved $1 billion over eight years by ensuring children were adopted instead of remaining in foster care.
That’s the successful incentive program this legislation extends and updates. We add a new award for states that increase adoptions of older children, who are the hardest to adopt and have the worst outcomes if they emancipate from the foster care system without a family to call their own. We also add a new award for increases in guardianship, when family members step up to care for their nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters. And this bill ensures States maintain their commitment to post-adoption and related services so children truly have a forever family.
I note that this legislation is fully paid for by a simple and real reform – requiring states to reduce federal income tax refunds when someone wrongly gets an overpayment of unemployment benefits. Those savings not only cover the cost of this legislation, but reduce the deficit by $24 million over the next 10 years. That’s a win-win for children, families, and taxpayers alike.
The bottom line is this: Children in foster care deserve a place to call home, not just for a few months or years but for good. We have already seen great progress in increasing adoptions since the adoption incentive program was created in 1997, and it is our hope that we can continue this progress with this bill.
I thank my colleagues who joined me in introducing this legislation – Mr. Levin of Michigan, Mr. Reichert of Washington, and Mr. Doggett of Texas. They are all leaders on these issues in the committee and this House, and I value their help in developing and advancing this legislation. I would also like to recognize the public input we received in crafting this bill. A draft of this bill was posted on the Ways and Means Committee’s website in August, and the public was given a month to provide their thoughts on how to ensure more children are adopted. The bill we are considering today incorporates many of those suggestions, and we are grateful for the public’s comments and their participation in this process.
I encourage all my colleagues to join us 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, loving homes.