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Linder Opening Statement: Hearing on Child Welfare Waivers

July 29, 2010

Good morning.  We are here today to consider about how best to keep children safe, and specifically what lessons have been learned from demonstration projects implemented under waivers of Federal child welfare law.

We are privileged to have a distinguished panel of experts here to review those questions and more.  I would especially like to highlight the testimony of George Sheldon of the State of Florida, who will describe reforms Florida has made in recent years under its waiver program. Those reforms reduced the number of children in foster care 36 percent, increased adoptions by 12,000, and improved child safety – all without spending more taxpayer money.

Since 1994, 22 States have joined Florida in using waivers to avoid certain Federal program requirements.  They have tested improved policies involving subsidized guardianship, flexible funding, services for parents with addictions, adoption and post-permanency services, and intensive service options. 

While Georgia is not a waiver State, the successful child welfare programs in the Congressional District I represent affirm the spirit of what we will discuss today – that decisions made closest to the family and the child are best. 

In fact, that experience and today’s testimony leads me to wonder whether we should be considering a broader agenda than just the question of whether waiver authority should be extended.  I understand why several of our witnesses support extending waiver authority – they have found a better way than current Federal rules allow. 

But that doesn’t say much for those Federal rules.

Maybe instead of allowing more exceptions to current Federal rules, we should be asking whether those Federal rules should be replaced for everyone.  Because if everyone wants to get out from under certain Federal rules through waivers, why have those Federal rules in the first place?    

I look forward to all of our testimony today.