Washington, DC – Today, Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-MI) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) 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-WA) and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX):
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.
Title II: Improving Adoption Incentives
- Improves the adoption incentives program and extends it for three years.
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.
Speaking about the introduction of the bill, House Ways and Means Chairman 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.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden said: “This legislation will ensure no state turns a blind eye to child sex trafficking by requiring state 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.”
House Ways and Means Ranking Member 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.”
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member 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.”
House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman 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.
House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Ranking Member Doggett said: “Much more is needed to protect vulnerable children, but this bill represents a constructive step forward.”