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When delay is deadly

December 19, 2017
Richard V. Reeves and Katherine Guyot
The Brookings Institution

Given the turbulent political climate, you can be forgiven for missing the fact that two and a half months ago, Congress missed the deadline to reauthorize federal support for home visiting. The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV, pronounced McVee) is, as we wrote two years ago, “one of the most innovative government programs you’ve probably never heard of.”

While many programs are losing funds, MIECHV is a victim not of budget cuts, but of congressional distraction. Alongside the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), MIECHV has been eclipsed first by the failed ACA repeal and then by the only policy issue on anyone’s mind for the last month: taxes.

Barring a government shutdown, we can expect Congress to pass a tardy MIECHV reauthorization in an omnibus spending bill later this month. In the meantime, though, existing home visiting services are not immune to federal inertia. Uncertainty may do the work of a more explicit rollback as states and providers question whether their programs will be funded in the long run.

A Flagship of Evidence-based Policy 

Home visiting consists of visits from social workers, parent educators, or registered nurses to low-income families with pregnant mothers or infants in the home. Gaps in child development open up very early, in part because of a “parenting gap.” Home visiting attempts to narrow these gaps, by providing what we have elsewhere labeled “pre-pre-K” services.

Though the current lapse suggests otherwise, MIECHV usually enjoys broad bipartisan support. The federal government began providing a modest level of funding for home visiting during the Bush Administration. Congress greatly expanded federal support in 2010 with the passage of MIECHV, which provides grants for home visiting programs in states, territories, and tribal communities.