Bill Summary: Safe Shelters Act of 2021

The Safe Shelters Act of 2021, or S. 3182 and H.R. 5882, is a bicameral and bipartisan bill that would require shelter facilities for unaccompanied migrant children to disclose any criminal or administrative action taken against them when applying for federal grants. The bill would also require the applicants to be licensed by the State where they operate before applying for federal grants. The bill aims to provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS)with all the relevant information of shelter facilities when considering their applications for a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The Safe Shelters Act of 2021 was introduced simultaneously in the Senate and House of Representatives on November 4, 2021. Senator Thomas Carper (D-Delaware) introduced the bill in the Senate, and Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) cosponsored the effort. Representative David Price (D-North Carolina) introduced the bill in the House of Representatives.

Background

The Safe Shelters Act was motivated by a bipartisan December 2020 oversight report conducted by Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee staff on HHS shelter grants. The report found that HHS had failed to conduct adequate oversight of companies seeking authorization and funding to operate shelters for unaccompanied minors. The report found that HHS had awarded $32 million in grants to six facilities, five of which were operated by two companies with a documented history of inadequate care of children. The report also found that while HHS has started to require some grant applicants to report licensing issues and prior or ongoing abuse allegations, these policies are not yet codified into law.

The report made three main recommendations to ensure the safety of unaccompanied children:

  1. HHS should permanently require grant applicants to disclose any prior or continuing adverse governmental action taken against them regarding the care of children.
  2. HHS should permanently require grant applicants to be licensed at the time of application.
  3. HHS reviewers should proactively check state databases for information on previous government adverse action cases regarding the care of children taken against applications for ORR funding.

The Safe Shelter Act of 2021 would:

Improve shelter facilities by requiring HHS shelter grant applicants to disclose any adverse action taken against them by Federal, State, or local government within a 5-year period prior to the application submission date. The bill defines “adverse action” as (a) “the suspension or revocation of an operating license” and (b) “any ongoing or pending investigation by the Federal Government or a State or local government.” The bill would thus require shelter grant applicants to disclose if they had been found guilty of misconduct or are under investigation for misconduct, within 5 years of application submission.

Require information sharing between HHS and appropriate State regulatory agencies. The bill would encourage due diligence and collaboration between HHS and appropriate State regulatory agencies to conduct a review of State databases for information on adverse actions taken against the applicant.

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