Update on social services legislation

February 23, 2021

Bills addressing a variety of aspects of social services, from foster care to public benefits, have been considered this session.  Several bills of interest to local governments are discussed below.

HB 1820 (Helmer) makes modifications to benefits programs that are administered by local departments of social services.  The bill makes post-secondary education a qualifying work activity for individuals participating in the Virginia Initiative for Education and Work (a component of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program) and the employment and training component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The bill also directs the Board of Social Services to establish broad-based categorical eligibility for SNAP, which provides that individuals receiving TANF benefits are assumed to qualify for SNAP as well.  (This initiative was also included in the Governor’s budget.)  The bill also increases the income limit for individuals to qualify for SNAP and removes the asset limit.  The bill has passed both chambers.

HB 1962 (Gooditis) requires relatives and fictive kin (individuals who are not related to a child by blood or adoption but have an established relationship with a child or his/her family) to be involved in the development of a foster care plan (current law requires parents to be involved unless parental rights have been terminated or parents cannot be located).  The bill also requires that placement with fictive kin be included as a potential option in the development of the foster care plan.  The bill requires that a child 12 years or older be involved in the development of the plan (current law requires such involvement beginning at age 14).  The bill passed both chambers.

HB 2191 (Leftwich), as passed by the House, would have required local departments of social services to disclose the location of a child to a legal guardian or custodian of the child upon request, unless the local department found that such disclosure would compromise the safety of the child or the legal guardian or custodian.  The bill was amended in Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services to limit its applicability to cases in which the local department has investigated.  The revised version requires the local department to disclose the child’s location to the parent or guardian, provided that the investigation was not completed, the parent or guardian verifies that he or she has legal custody of the child, the parent or guardian has not been the subject of a founded report of child abuse or neglect, the local department is not aware of a court order prohibiting or limiting the parent or guardian’s contact with the child, the other parent or guardian, or other person responsible for the care of the child, and disclosure of the child’s location will not compromise the safety of the child, the other parent or guardian, or other person responsible for the care of the child.  The bill is on the Senate floor.

SB 1328 (Mason) would create a state-local program to assist relatives in taking custody of children who would otherwise remain in foster care.  This concept was recommended by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in its 2018 report on Virginia’s foster care system, as well as by the Virginia Commission on Youth in 2019.  Both bodies have been concerned about Virginia’s poor performance relative to other states of children aging out of foster care before finding a permanent family.  Virginia’s current federally-funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program provides monthly payments and access to foster care services to relatives who become legal guardians of children in foster care in order to facilitate a permanent placement of the child, but this program requires the potential guardian to be a licensed foster parent for the child for six months in order to qualify, which has limited participation.  The State-Funded Kinship Guardianship program under the bill would operate through the Children’s Services Act structure and provide payments to guardians based on an agreement developed with the local department of social services.  A child would qualify If he or she had been removed from his/her home and been in the custody of the local department of social services for at least 90 days.  Prospective kinship guardians would qualify by completing the relative foster home approval process (or qualifying for a waiver).  The Department of Social Services estimates that 90 children will qualify for the program in FY 2022 and 100 children will qualify in FY 2023 and in subsequent years.  This bill passed both chambers.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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