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Lewis, Davis Seek Info on HHS Waiver to Permit Discrimination Against Prospective Foster Parents

March 21, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Ways & Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D-GA) and Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) sent a letter to two U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials regarding an HHS waiver that exempts organizations from federal foster care religious non-discrimination rules under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Reps. Lewis and Davis directed their inquiry to HHS Assistant Secretary of Administration for Children and Families, Lynn Johnson, and HHS Office of Civil Rights Director, Roger Severino. The letter is part of the Chairmen’s investigation into the decision by HHS to grant the waiver to foster care providers in South Carolina that screen foster parent applicants on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.

The members noted in their letter that the decision to grant the waiver “may have been made without sufficient consultation with internal and external experts, including career civil servants who administer federal foster care programs and outside experts on foster care policy.  We fear,” the letter continues, “that HHS’s action will exacerbate the current shortage of foster parents and the current increase in youth entering and remaining in care, leaving our most vulnerable children without stable homes.”

The chairmen requested HHS provide a range of information, including:

  • The process that HHS established to conduct a review of foster care waivers from religious non-discrimination requirements;
  • To identify which foster care specialists and experts – both at HHS and externally – HHS consulted to determine the impact of the waiver on South Carolina’s ability to match children with qualified foster parents, and provide any analysis conducted by HHS staff of the impact of the waiver;
  • All documents and communications related to the January waiver among employees and officials of HHS, as well as between HHS and employees at the White House or the Executive Office of the President;  
  • How HHS’s granting of waivers from religious non-discrimination requirements promotes the best interests of children involved in the child welfare system; and
  • All states that have requested or inquired about a waiver from religious non-discrimination requirements related to foster care providers, including all documents and communications about such requests or inquiries.

Reps. Lewis and Davis requested HHS provide the requested materials no later than April 4, 2019.

Full text of the letter is available HERE.

Further background is available HERE.