CWLA 2005 Children's Legislative Agenda
Financing Child Welfare Services
- Develop and advance new federal policies that improve the existing federal-state partnership that finances child welfare services.
- Reject efforts to cap, or block grant, federal entitlement funding for foster care and adoption assistance.
- Expand access to federally guaranteed prevention and support services for children and families in all states and communities.
CWLA's Call for Reform
The child welfare system needs reform. CWLA's top federal legislative priority in 2005 is to work with Congress and the Administration to develop and advance new federal policies that improve the existing federal-state partnership that finances child welfare. CWLA calls on Congress not to react to budget constraints by limiting federal supports for abused and neglected children, but to implement a true reform for the child welfare system to ensure better protection and support for our nation's most vulnerable children and families.
Congress must reject limited, shortsighted efforts that reduce federal support for children who have been abused and neglected, and focus instead on needed comprehensive reforms and ensuring that the federal government forges a stronger partnership with states, localities, and tribal communities to meet our fundamental obligation to America's most vulnerable children. Part of this reform effort must include a new state and federal investment commitment. This will sustain and strengthen the comprehensive community-based systems of care that secure the safety of our children and the ability of child welfare agencies to provide the highest level of service possible. This type of comprehensive approach provides for a full continuum of care, from prevention services to early targeted intervention and residential care and treatment.
- Over the last several years, discussions and hearings in Congress have reviewed the current federal supports for providing services to abused and neglected children, their families, and others who are at risk of abuse or neglect. To gain greater attention for the system's current difficulties, CWLA has taken an active role in testifying at these hearings before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources. 1
In May 2004, the independent, nonpartisan Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care submitted recommendations to Congress for improving federal financing of child welfare services. 2 In July 2004, the Human Resources Subcommittee held a hearing to review these recommendations and to preview legislation subsequently introduced by Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R-CA), the Child SAFE Act. 3 This bill rejected the Pew Commission's recommendation to maintain the guaranteed federal funding for room and board costs for children in foster care. No companion legislation was introduced in the Senate. The House of Representatives did not vote on the measure last year. CWLA believes neither of these proposals adequately addressed the true child welfare financing reform needed.
The First Challenge of 2005: Budget Reconciliation
To focus on improving the child welfare system, Congress must first reject an effort to cap or reduce Title IV-E funding. This cap may occur as part of an overall effort in Congress to stem the growth of entitlement spending.
Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance is an entitlement program, meaning it is available to anyone who meets the program's strict eligibility criteria. The federal government reimburses each state for a percentage of the program's overall costs. Federal funding for Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance represents only one-half of 1% of all federal entitlement spending.
If federal funding for Title IV-E were capped or cut, the amount of money states would receive from the federal government for foster care would be fixed, regardless of their expenses.
To make it easier to cut entitlement spending, Congress is expected to pass the annual budget resolution with a special reconciliation rule. If reconciliation instructions are included in the budget resolution, directions will be sent to various congressional committees to cut entitlement programs to meet reduced federal spending targets.
CWLA believes that any proposals to change the child welfare system should be based on efforts that improve and strengthen the system to better protect children. Efforts to lower the federal deficit must not come at the expense of services to our most vulnerable children. Reform efforts that only aim to cut costs will jeopardize the ability of the nation's child welfare system to protect our children. If the FY 2006 budget reconciliation process results in cuts to programs and services for children in the child welfare system, there will be no opportunity for debate and passage of the significant improvements needed.
- The move to include a cap on Title IV-E funding as part of the effort to meet deficit reduction goals is being fueled by a recommendation in the President's FY 2006 budget to cap federal foster care funding. 4 The President's proposal would give states an option to receive a fixed, predetermined allocation, or block grant, for their foster care maintenance payments, administrative costs, and training funds, rather than the current open-ended entitlement funding based on the number of eligible children. 5
The President's budget proposal would also restrict the use of Medicaid to provide services for children in the child welfare system, and eliminate an expansion of the Title IV-E eligibility allowed in certain Western states as a result of a 2003 federal court case. 6 These proposals may also be included as part of the overall effort to reduce federal entitlement spending.
- Congress should reject child welfare proposals grounded in the budget reconciliation or deficit reduction process and instead pledge to develop and advance new federal policy proposals that improve the existing federal-state partnership that finances child welfare services.
The Next Step: Seeking Improvements in 2005
The next step is to begin addressing the comprehensive changes needed in the way our country provides financial support to help abused and neglected children and their families. CWLA looks forward to working with Congress on a comprehensive child welfare financing reform proposal. A truly comprehensive proposal must ensure that
- adequate federal resources are available to help states and communities provide a flexible array of services to prevent child abuse and neglect, support children who are in foster care and those children who are reunited with their families from foster care, and support families who adopt children from the foster care system;
- children and families involved in the child welfare system have access to medical, therapeutic, and treatment services;
- federal foster care and adoption assistance is extended to more children;
- federal resources support placements of children with legal guardians and relative caregivers;
- a series of changes are implemented that will recognize the need to strengthen and build on the child welfare workforce, including expanded access to federal training funds so they can support training of private agency staff, related child-serving agency workers, and court staff working with children in the child welfare system;
- direct access to federal funding is extended to tribes for the care and protection of Native American children who are victims of abuse and neglect; and
- accountability is strengthened in the child welfare system by requiring better information about how funds are used and by continuing to focus and build on measurements provided in the federal Child and Family Service Reviews.
Additional information and materials about CWLA's call for reform, and a review of existing child welfare financing resources and legislative proposals, are available on CWLA's website at www.cwla.org/advocacy/financing.htm.
- CWLA's testimony at these hearings is on CWLA's website at www.cwla.org/advocacy/statements.htm.
- A detailed description of the recommendations of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care is on CWLA's website at www.cwla.org/advocacy/pewcommission.htm.
- A detailed summary of the Child SAFE Act and CWLA's concerns about the bill is on CWLA's website at www.cwla.org/advocacy/childsafeact.htm.
- The President's FY 2006 proposed budget and analytical perspectives are www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2006available online.
- As an entitlement, Title IV-E foster care is currently available to anyone who meets the program's strict eligibility criteria. The federal government reimburses each state for a percentage of the program's overall costs. A block grant reduces the federal government's commitment to share the costs of caring for abused and neglected children. The amount of funds a state would receive from the federal government would be fixed, regardless of a state's expenses.
- Enedina Rosales and the California Department of Social Services v. Tommy G. Thompson (321 F.3d 835).
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