2003 Legislative Priorities
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Recent newspaper headlines illustrate how much more we as a country need to do to better protect our children from abuse and neglect. These stories reveal that we need new investments to strengthen the comprehensive community-based systems of support necessary to secure the safety of all children, especially those who have been victims of abuse and neglect. If we are serious about keeping our children safe, we must strengthen federal and state investments in programs that protect children from abuse and neglect and provide them with essential services.
To ensure the safety and well-being of America's children, the Child Welfare League of America urges Congress to:
- Support new federal investments to help states protect and care for abused and neglected children and those at risk of abuse and neglect. These investments must help states and child-serving, community-based agencies provide essential services to children, youth, and families. They must help build a strong workforce and reduce caseloads to a level that allows the workers dedicated to these children to do their jobs well. Further, they must help support strong partnerships with states and localities to ensure that federally prescribed outcomes of permanency, safety, and well-being, are met.
- Oppose efforts to implement block grants that fail to adequately support the federal commitment to protect children. While offering some flexibility, these efforts would provide level or reduced funding, eligibility, or benefits for key safety-net programs for children, youth, and families, including foster care, Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and Head Start. In addition to flexibility, new investments are needed to adequately meet the needs of the children and families.
- Support federal fiscal relief for states to ensure that services for children are maintained and increased. With this additional funding, states may not be forced to make deeper cuts in health, social services, and education programs.
- Preserve the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance program as an open-ended entitlement to ensure a continued federal role in supporting abused and neglected children.
- Ensure that all abused and neglected children are eligible for foster care and adoption assistance by eliminating the Title IV-E current financial eligibility requirements tied to outdated 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children standards.
- Provide federal support for the full range of services necessary to prevent child abuse and neglect, increase services to promote safety and permanence for children, and assist families struggling with problems such as substance abuse.
- Provide incentives to states to increase and support a well-trained workforce prepared to deliver quality services and achieve successful outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system. Provide student loan forgiveness for those who become child welfare workers.
- Increase funding for the Social Services Block Grant, which states use to provide services to children and youth, including adoption, foster care, child protection, independent living, and residential services.
- The President's FY 2004 budget announces a new legislative proposal to give all states an option to receive a fixed allocation, or block grant, of funds over five years, rather than the current open-ended entitlement funding under the Title IV-E Foster Care program.
- States could use the block grant for an array of child welfare purposes, including maintenance and administrative payments for foster care and child welfare training.
- If states experienced emergencies affecting their foster care systems, they would not receive any additional federal funding under the block grant.
- The proposal allows states to access additional funding from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families contingency fund. In the past, states have not been able to access this $2 billion fund because the triggers based on a state's unemployment rate, food stamp use, and spending requirements have been set too high.
- Participating states will still be required to: maintain the child protections outlined in the Adoption and Safe Families Act, agree to maintain existing levels of state investment in child welfare programs, conduct independent third-party evaluations of their programs, and participate in the Child and Family Service Reviews.
- Preserve the federal guarantee of Medicaid for all low-income children, including children in the child welfare system.
- Improve Medicaid benefits and broaden health insurance coverage for uninsured children under SCHIP.
- Oppose any efforts to block-grant or reform Medicaid and SCHIP that do not result in maintaining and improving benefits, eligibility, and access to services.
- The President's FY 2004 budget announces a new legislative proposal to give states the option of continuing their current Medicaid program or converting their Medicaid and SCHIP into a capped, consolidated block grant.
- States that choose to keep their current Medicaid program would not receive any additional funding. At a time when states are experiencing severe budget deficits, this would leave them little choice in the short-term but to significantly scale back coverage for vulnerable low-income populations.
- States choosing this block grant approach would receive a loan totaling, for all states, $3.25 billion in federal funding for FY 2004 and $12.7 billion over seven years. These states would repay these funds to the federal government in lower reimbursement in years 8-10, but would also have to accept an overall cap on federal Medicaid spending over a fixed 10-year period starting next year. The Administration describes the proposal as budget neutral.
- At state option, most if not all federal rules related to at least two-thirds of all Medicaid spending would disappear.
- All Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries would be affected. Currently, half of all Medicaid beneficiaries are children.
- Although mandatory groups, including children in foster care, are to be protected, both mandatory and optional populations would fall under the capped funding structure. States would have to serve mandatory groups, but within the fixed pot of funds available to meet the needs of all groups-children and families, people with disabilities, and seniors.
- Preserve Head Start's current structure, which provides funding directly to local community providers. Maintain Head Start's mission as a comprehensive child development, child care, and child and family-focused program.
- Increase funding to ensure that more than 60% of eligible children are served, and continue to improve the program's quality through better training of Head Start teachers.
- Encourage greater coordination between state child care and early education programs and Head Start.
- Oppose efforts that would convert Head Start into a block grant to states and repeal current standards.
- The President's FY 2004 budget announces a proposal to significantly change Head Start by allowing Head Start funding, which now flows from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) directly to local programs, to instead go to states.
- If states elect this option, federal Head Start outcomes and standards would be replaced with state standards.
- This proposal shifts the emphasis of Head Start from the development of the whole child by addressing the social, emotional, physical development and parental involvement to a focus on developing a child's literacy abilities. Reflecting that change, the President proposes moving administration of Head Start from HHS to the U.S. Department of Education.
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