The bipartisan case for reauthorizing home visiting program

The Hill
By Christine Todd Whitman
August 7, 2017

Bipartisan success stories are hard to come by these days.

Although elusive, such stories do still exist. For a shining example of across-the-aisle cooperation, look no further than the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV).

MIECHV provides federal funding for voluntary home visiting programs that equip parents with the essential tools and information they need to raise healthy, successful kids. These programs offer mentorship to parents from trained professionals that help ensure children reach critical developmental milestones.

Congress last reauthorized MIECHV in 2015 with wide bipartisan support. But, in our current political climate, even reauthorization of this effective, evidence-based program is now at risk—and funding expires in September.

Politics doesn’t have to be this way.

The two of us are proof of that.

One of us is a Republican from New Jersey who began her career in the Nixon administration. The other is a Democrat from a small town in Oklahoma who cut his political teeth on the floor of the Oklahoma State Senate.

More and more, Americans are using these kinds of differences to define themselves, their neighbors, their co-workers, and even their families. These divisions create a nation of mutual exclusivities: coast or heartland, Ivy League or state school, red or blue.

But that which binds us together as Americans is—and always will be—stronger than that which divides us. We are much more than our hometowns, or a few words on a diploma, or the box we check in a voting booth.

Take us, for example. We are both devoted parents. We are both children of public servants. We were both elected (and re-elected!) to govern states that typically vote for candidates of the opposite party.

Most important, we are united in our belief that our nation should take bold steps to strengthen families and help break the negative cycles that deprive some Americans of the opportunity to reach their greatest potential.

That’s why we are calling on Congress to find their own common ground and to reauthorize MIECHV.

American parents want their kids to grow into productive, engaged citizens. Unfortunately, children don’t come with an instruction manual—and parents who struggle with poverty, unemployment and single parenthood face extra challenges when raising their families. MIECHV provides a two-generation solution capable of helping parents and children—and the evidence shows just how profound those effects can be.

Of the U.S. families who participate in MIECHV, one in seven have experienced maltreatment at home. But high-quality home visiting programs can reverse this behavior, cutting rates of abuse and neglect in half, and reducing instances of crime in both children and parents who participate. Home visiting also helps parents to become financially independent and reduces the need for reliance on government resources down the line, including welfare and healthcare.

This research reflects the immense potential these programs have to change lives and halt cycles of poverty, violence and abuse. It also shows that we get the best results when we invest in the earliest years—and that parenting works.

Republicans and Democrats agree about the benefits of MIECHV.

Now, their country needs them to agree to come together to reauthorize this important legislation.

Party should be no barrier to supporting solutions that work. After all, we are a Republican and Democrat who, despite serving in different states and during different decades, knew investing in home visiting would mean long-term gains in public safety, the economy and the cohesion of American families.

That’s why, in 1999, I oversaw a $10 million increase in federal funds for New Jersey’s statewide parent education program.

That’s why, a decade later, I applied for and received federal MIECHV funds to boost the state home visiting programs Oklahoma had successfully implemented for fifteen years.

States and localities keenly understand the needs of their citizens, and, through MIECHV, they get to decide which home visiting models suit those needs best. The additional federal dollars help more families in need: MIECHV funding allowed more than 145,000 additional parents and children to access these vital resources in 2015. These funds also build rigorous evaluation systems that strengthen existing state programs by helping to target funding where it will do the most good.

These successes—successes that have strengthened families, broken generations of negative cycles, and superseded partisan divisions—are now in jeopardy.

MIECHV is set to expire at the end of September. Without reauthorization, states will cease to receive the crucial federal funds that maximize the positive impacts of programs already in place.

Reauthorizing MIECHV would send an important message that our lawmakers still have the will to cast aside the superficialities that divide them in favor of the noblest calling that unites them: The best interests of the American people.

Christine Todd Whitman and Brad Henry serve as Senior Policy Advisors to Council for a Strong America. Governor Whitman was Governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, and Governor Henry was Governor of Oklahoma from 2003 to 2011.