Becky Shipp, Key Senate Staffer on Child Welfare, Heads to Private Sector

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Becky Shipp, a veteran policy advisor for the Senate Finance Committee, has been named vice president of The Sheridan Group, a D.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in helping to create advocacy campaigns.

Shipp, who was director of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth from 2009-2012, has led child welfare policy for the Republican side since 2003. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have been the ranking Republicans on the Finance Committee during her tenure.

“It has been the honor of my life to serve under Chairman Grassley and Chairman Hatch,” Shipp said in a message to colleagues on her last day. “There are not superlatives enough to express my appreciation to them and to all of you for the work we have been able to accomplish together, so I won’t venture to try.”

Shipp now joins a firm focused on advising clients with ambitious advocacy and policy campaigns. Its client list includes many youth-serving organizations, such as Citizen Schools, First Focus, KaBOOM! and Youth Villages.

“Becky’s over 20 years on Capitol Hill and deep commitment to child welfare, health, social innovation and human services is a perfect fit for TSG’s client portfolio and history,” said Tom Sheridan, the founder and CEO of TSG, in a statement introducing Shipp.

Shipp told YSI that TSG has an interest in growing its presence in the child welfare arena. Of specific interest: the reform of the federal IV-E entitlement, which helps states pay for foster care placements and adoption assistance. Shipp worked last year on the Family First Prevention Services Act, and attempt to reform IV-E that ultimately stalled in the Senate.

“Becoming more active in the child welfare space, especially since the IV-E waivers are expiring, is a reason why I was brought on board,” Shipp told YSI in an email.

In addition to Sheridan, TSG’s staff includes senior advisor and former Senator Harris Wofford, and former Hill staffers Jill Allen Murray and Carly Katz.

Shipp’s tenure at Senate Finance saw a slate of legislative, bipartisan achievements in the child welfare arena. Among them:

Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which included a slate of new federal mandates meant to keep siblings together and enhance the stability of children in the foster care system. The bill’s most famous provision allows states to partner with the federal government to extend foster care until the age of 21 for youth who choose to remain instead of age out at 18.

Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), a program through which the federal government supports models that pair professionals with new or expecting mothers to prepare them for parenthood. MIECHV began as a modest pilot project under George W. Bush, and under the Affordable Care Act grew to an annual authorization of $400 million.

Family Opportunity Act, which enabled families with disabled children to buy into Medicaid for the child, even if the family income was too high for normal eligibility.

Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which updated the federal adoption incentive program and requires states to pay at least nominal attention to normalcy in the lives of foster youth. The bill also required that states for the first time report data on failed adoptions.

Shipp, along with her Democrat-side counterpart Laura Berntsen, was a lead staffer pushing the Family First Prevention Services Act in the previous Congress. Family First was co-authored by their bosses on the Finance Committee: Chairman Hatch, and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The bill would have made two significant changes to the IV-E entitlement. On the front end, the bill created a 12-month window in which states could spend IV-E dollars to help birth parents in an effort to prevent the need for foster care. On the back end, it limited the length of time that IV-E money could be used for placements in certain group homes and other congregate care settings.

The bill sailed quickly through the House in 2016, and returned to the Senate, where it likely would have passed if it received a floor vote. But as Family First leaders attempted to push it through unanimous consent, and then attach it to bigger bills, it was held up by objections from several Senators.

As Shipp heads for the consulting world, Senate Finance has several youth-related bills awaiting movement. On October 1, MIECHV and the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired. Without Congressional action, states and programs will experience significant disruptions on both fronts soon.

The committee has reauthorization bills ready on both, but they took a backseat to the action on overall health care reform in the waning days of the past fiscal year.