U.S. Congress Extends Funding for Vital Family Program

On March 31, the U.S. Senate approved a six-month extension for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, or MIECHV, program, following the same action by the U.S. House of Representatives the previous week. This federal-state partnership is a proven strategy for strengthening families and saving money.

The critical family support program has a long history of bipartisan backing at the state and federal levels. The extension of funding through March 31, 2015, will mean continued support and coaching for vulnerable families in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Decades of research show that these family support programs work and ultimately save money for taxpayers. When quality programs are properly implemented in local communities, they lead to reduced health care costs, decreased need for remedial education, and increased family self-sufficiency. For every dollar spent on these efforts, at least $2 in future spending is saved.

Children don’t arrive with instruction manuals, so this voluntary program matches motivated new parents with trained providers from their communities, such as nurses or parent educators, to help the parents learn the skills to be successful. Most participating parents lack the extended family support, experience, and knowledge of basic parenting skills that are critical to success during pregnancy and through the first few years of a child’s life.

The MIECHV program is also designed with a high degree of accountability. States are tracking and measuring effectiveness to make sure that it is working as intended. The legislation requires that the majority of the programs be “evidence-based,” so they have a track record of effectiveness through rigorous scientific study.

The federal-state partnership is designed to give states flexibility to identify the local problems they want to solve, such as infant mortality or school readiness. And then states choose the right type of family support programs to meet those needs. These programs are then implemented by the communities where the participating families live.

Crucial legislative leadership came from a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House, including Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Chairman Joe Pitts (PA), Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (MI), Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (MI), and Speaker John Boehner (OH). The bill was supported on the floor by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA). In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) moved the measure after working with House counterparts, while Senate Finance Committee members Robert Menendez (NJ) and Charles Grassley (IA) authored a letter calling for action on MIECHV by the committee.

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