Children's Monitor Online
A Public Policy Update from the Child Welfare League of America

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 39: 10/2/2006   
Headlines

PSSF Reauthorization Goes to White House

House Holds Hearing on Home Visiting

Walsh Child Safety Bill Creates More Problems for States

Final Defense Bill Places Labor-HHS-Education Under Pressure for Added Cuts

Continuing Resolution Keeps Government Running Until After Election

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers



PSSF Reauthorization Goes to White House

The U.S. House of Representatives on September 26 gave final approval to the conference agreement on the Children and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006 (S. 3525), allowing the President to sign it into law. The legislation reauthorizes the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program. The new legislation includes an additional $40 million annually in mandatory funds. Part of these funds will be designated for competitive grants to address substance abuse and child welfare. The other part will be provided to each state to promote workforce improvements. The final legislation was a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization. A more detailed analysis is available online.

In addition to the $40 million for substance abuse and workforce, the main funding found in PSSF includes mandatory funds of $305 million (funding provided automatically without an annual appropriation) and $200 million in authorized funds, which Congress must approve each year through the annual appropriations process. Funds are used by states for four programs: time-limited reunification services, adoption promotion and support services, family preservation, and family support services.

The main focus of attention for CWLA and other advocates now shifts to the funding level provided through the annual appropriations. In FY 2006, Congress approved $89.1 million in discretionary PSSF funds, for a total of $394 million ($305 million mandatory plus $89 million appropriated). The House Appropriations committee has passed an appropriations bill (H.R. 5647) that would keep PSSF discretionary funding at this same $89 million level, but the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a cut to PSSF in its bill (S. 3708). Under the Senate bill, PSSF would be cut to $75 million, for total funding set at $380 million. If that happens, it would continue the steady erosion of PSSF from its high of $405 million in 2004. This is well below the Administration's promise to fully fund PSSF at $505 million a year. CWLA has written a letter to appropriators urging them to at least restore
funding to the 2006 level. That letter is online.

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House Holds Hearing on Home Visiting

On September 27, the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Education Reform held a hearing on Perspectives on Early Childhood Home Visitation Programs. The hearing focused on evidence suggesting the early years of a child's life are the most critical for optimal development and provide the foundation for success in school and life, and home visiting programs fitting into a continuum of care that produces positive outcomes for children and families, including preventing abuse and neglect.

Although a variety of home visiting programs nationwide offer diverse services to targeted families, five model programs were represented at the hearing, including Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Families America, Early Head Start, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, and the Parent-Child Home Program. Such programs have similar goals, such as positive parenting, enhanced school readiness, child development, and access to physical and mental health services. States decide to follow different models depending on local needs and preferences.

The Education Begins at Home Act has been introduced in the Senate (S. 503) and in the House (H.R. 3628). Both bills have bipartisan support. At the hearing, subcommittee members on both sides aisle agreed that the "universality" of the program is beneficial to all expecting and new parents. Many subcommittee members agreed that funding prevention services for children will beget a return in America's investment. Subcommittee Chair Tom Osborne (R-NE) discussed early home visiting as a cost-effective prevention tool that deserves a dedicated source of funding. Representative Danny Davis (D-Ill) spoke highly of the fact that home visiting programs increased involvement of fathers by 46%.

Education Begins at Home would provide $400 million over three years to states to expand access to quality home visitation programs. To view CWLA's written testimony, and for more information, visit us online.

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Walsh Child Safety Bill Creates More Problems for States

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (H.R. 4472, P.L. 109-248) may be creating problems in the placement of children in foster or adoptive homes. The Walsh Act is focused on child predators and law enforcement, but several provisions could have a significant effect on child welfare placements. (See more about the Walsh Act in the July 24, 2006, Children's Monitor.)

One little-noticed provision is causing state officials immediate problems in contemplating what their next steps and responsibilities are in the placement of children in foster and adoptive homes. Section 152 of the Act mandates that states check child abuse and neglect registries maintained by states before a child is placed into a foster or adoptive home. The check applies to all adults in the household, and, if that family has lived in another state in the previous five years, a state must check that state's registry also.

Unfortunately not all states use their registries in the same way, and some states may not have a child abuse registry. States have different categories or reasons for placing an individual on a registry, and they may also differ in terms of due process and length of time a person is listed on the registry. The Walsh Act mandates that states check these registries before a prospective foster or adoptive parent may be finally approved for placement.

Perhaps more challenging is the fact that the provision is to take effect October 1, 2006, and applies to all children in care regardless of whether they are eligible for federal funding under Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance. The law also directs states to act, "without regard to whether regulations to implement the amendments are promulgated." In fact, there has been no regulation or guidance provided to states from HHS, and many states are challenged as to whether they can continue to place children without penalty from the federal government.

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Final Defense Bill Places Labor-HHS-Education Under Pressure for Added Cuts

Congress gave final approval to a Defense appropriations bill last week, adopting one of the few appropriations bills Congress was able to act on before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. The final bill, H.R. 5631 (H. Rept. 109-676), funds the Defense Department at $447 billion, with $70 billion in emergency funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of significance to human service programs, the final defense bill restores funding members of Congress had intended to shift toward domestic spending. Under a complex deal, appropriators had intended to cut defense spending by $9 billion and fill the defense budget with "emergency" spending, which is not officially counted toward agreed-upon budget caps. The $9 billion would have allowed the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations (S. 3708/HR 5647) to be funded at $7 billion more than the White House had requested. That $7 billion add-on would have meant overall funding for the three departments would be equal to 2005 funding levels. In the end, the White House pressured Congress to restore most of the funding in Defense; as a result, the money will not be available to Labor-HHS-Education.

Congress will not act on any final funding decisions for HHS until after the election. At that time, a single large omnibus appropriations will likely be adopted to fund all of government outside of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the only two spending bills Congress passed before adjourning until after the election.

There has been some suggestion that appropriators may impose another across-the-board cut. This would be after individual programs are cut. See the latest proposed funding levels for key human service programs.

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Continuing Resolution Keeps Government Running Until After Election

As part of the Defense appropriations (H.R. 5631, H. Rept. 109-676), Congress attached a continuing resolution (CR) that will extend federal funding to all federal departments and agencies still awaiting their FY 2007 appropriations. The CR will provide the lower of the Senate- or House-approved funding, or the 2006 funding level.

The appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education has not passed either house (only the committees have acted), so all Labor, HHS, and Education programs will be funded at 2006 levels until Congress acts on a permanent appropriation. The CR is to expire by November 17. Congress is expected to return earlier that week and, if they cannot reach a quick post-election agreement, this CR will likely have to be extended.

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CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

CWLA's Legislative Alerts provide breaking news, advocacy information, and critically important timely details of legislative battles. In an effort to broaden CWLA's advocacy network on behalf of children, anyone can now subscribe and receive the same information. This effort compliments CWLA's weekly electronic legislative newsletter, the Children's Monitor, which is also available free to any subscriber. We encourage you to register to receive these items directly and to pass on the information to other colleagues, family, and friends.

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