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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 49: 12/18/2006   
Headlines

End of Year Review

Stop-Gap Funding Runs Until February 15, Could Extend for All FY 2007

Foster Children Exempt from DRA Verification Requirements

Transitional Medical Assistance Gets Short-Term Extension

Funds to Address SCHIP Included in Final Package

Respite Bill Adopted in Final Hours

Ryan White CARE Act Reauthorized

CWLA Reiterates Call for All Members of Congress to Report Child Abuse and Neglect Based on Ethics Findings

CWLA Annual Hill Day and First-Ever Preconference Institute on Advocacy

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



End of Year Review

This will be our last Children's Monitor for 2006. The next issue will be sent Tuesday, January 2, 2007.

The 109th Congress ended in the early hours of December 9. As Congress rushed to bring a tumultuous year to an end, a number of bills and issues remained unaddressed and now await the new 110th Congress in January. But Congress did take some actions in a few key areas. The 110th Congress officially begins January 3, 2007. With the last two special elections complete (Louisiana and Texas), the House of Representatives will likely have 233 Democrats and 202 Republicans; one seat in Florida is still in dispute.

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Stop-Gap Funding Runs Until February 15, Could Extend for All FY 2007

The federal fiscal year began October 1, but the 109th Congress was able to pass only two FY 2007appropriations bills--for the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense. Before leaving town, Congress passed its final CR, which extends federal funding for all nondefense and homeland security programs until February 15.

The funding level in the CR is set at the lower of the House or Senate-passed version of each department's appropriation. Funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education are set at last year's level, since neither house adopted a bill for those departments. That leaves the final 2007 funding levels in the hands of the new Congress, which will have to make key funding decisions with more than 25% of the fiscal year over.

The new Congressional leadership has indicated it may simply extend the CR for the entire year, while making two significant changes. The Incoming Appropriations Chairs, Representative David Obey (D-WI) and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), have indicated they might extend the CR through the end of the fiscal year and add some funding to key areas such as HHS and Veterans Affairs, while also taking out all earmarks. Earmarks are specific legislative directives, inserted into various appropriations bills, that require programs or departments to spend federal dollars and grants in specific ways and on specific programs. With record increases in the number of earmarks over the past 10 years, critics argue earmarks contribute to corruption. Obey and Byrd have indicated the earmarks would stop until new reform measures can be instituted in the new Congress.

The initial reaction from the White House to extend the CR for the year was not positive. Rob Portman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, indicated he hoped the new Congress would deal with the bills separately for each department. That could create a backlog for the new Congress, as it will also be considering such issues as the minimum wage and a new request from the White House, exceeding $100 billion, to fund the war.

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Foster Children Exempt from DRA Verification Requirements

A provision included in the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 (H.R. 6111) exempts foster children and children receiving adoption assistance from new citizenship verification requirements established under Medicaid. These requirements were included in regulations issued by the Centers on Medical Services (CMS) as a result of the Deficit Reduction Act, passed last February.

The regulations required individuals, including foster children, to document their citizenship and. According to those rules, a passport could have been used to establish both identity and citizenship; if a passport were not available, a series of other separate documents would have been necessary to establish citizenship and identity separately.

On June 29, CWLA joined with U.S. Senators and Representatives and several national organizations at a Capitol Hill press conference on in calling on Congress to order CMS to reconsider the decision to implement these new restrictions on Medicaid. We argued the decision would delay or prevent access to health and mental health services for children in foster care. The vast majority of children in foster care do not have a passport or driver's license. CWLA also argued that collecting original birth certificates or church records placed an additional burden on states where staff and resources were already stretched thin and represented a new unfunded mandate, and that states already reviewed alien status of children in care as a result of current Title IV-E requirements.

The interim final regulations had departed from previous CMS guidance in exempting seniors and people with disabilities who receive Medicare or Supplemental Security Income. Over the past several months, CWLA has worked with other national and state organizations to get foster children exempted. An additional concern focused on whether children who were in foster care but not eligible for federal support (Title IV-E) would still be required to follow the verification requirements.

The final legislation also provides an exemption to children in foster care in which Title IV-B services such as Promoting Safe and Stable Families and Child Welfare Services are available. These children may not be eligible for IV-E but are included in the new exemption.

The exemption represents a major victory for children in foster care and should help them maintain their Medicaid coverage.

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Transitional Medical Assistance Gets Short-Term Extension

The same bill that makes technical corrections to the Deficit Reduction Act to exempt foster children from the new Medicaid citizenship documentation requirements--the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 (H.R. 6111)--also provides a short-term extension of the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program until June. The new Congress will have to consider a longer extension. TMA, which was established in 1988 and had never before been permitted to expire, was due to expire on December 31.

The TMA program provides temporary health coverage to families who have become ineligible for Medicaid because of earnings, often because they have left welfare to enter the workforce. CWLA recently joined with other organizations and signed a letter sent to Congress advocating extension of TMA.

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Funds to Address SCHIP Included in Final Package

Due in large part to intense public pressure in the final hours of the 109th Congress, stopgap funding to address funding shortfalls in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was ultimately included in one of the last bills to pass before the end of the legislative session on December 9.

An SCHIP shortfall of some $800 million to $950 million had been predicted in 17-18 states next year. The SCHIP funding measure Congress passed last week, which provides a total of $271 million to states most imminently facing shortfalls, was part of a last-minute flurry of negotiating in the Senate that allowed for passage of several major health care bills, including a measure to encourage research into premature births, and reauthorization of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act.

Instead of providing new funds to counter the shortfall, however, as many groups, including CWLA, had advocated, the SCHIP funding provision allows for redistribution of SCHIP money from fiscal year 2004, and certain funds from fiscal year 2005, to states expected to face shortfalls at the beginning of 2007.

Essentially, through this action, Congress has delayed SCHIP funding shortfalls until May 2007, as the provision will only provide about one-fifth of the funds necessary to fully close the shortfalls for the full fiscal year. Congress will have to move quickly early next year to enact further legislation to provide additional new funding to address the remaining SCHIP shortfalls. Full SCHIP reauthorization legislation is now up to the new 110th Congress, and some lawmakers have indicated they hope to complete reauthorization of the program before May.

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Respite Bill Adopted in Final Hours

The Lifespan Respite Care Act (H.R. 3248/S. 1283) was another significant health care bill passed by Congress before adjourning last week. The legislation establishes a federal program for respite care by providing relief from caring for children and adults with special needs for parents and other caregivers, including kinship and foster parents. The bill authorizes $289 million over five years for states to train volunteers and provide other services to an estimated 50 million families caring at home for adults and children with special needs.

Respite care is designed to give primary caregivers temporary relief in their obligations, allowing for time to prepare meals, run errands, or simply take a break. CWLA called for passage of this legislation in its 2006 Legislative Agenda. The law will help family caregivers who provide daily care to children with disabilities or chronic conditions. Supported by a number of social work and health organizations in addition to CWLA, the legislation will establish the first federal program of respite care for all age groups.

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Ryan White CARE Act Reauthorized

Last week's flurry of legislative activity also included a three-year reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, which governs the distribution of about $2 billion for treatment of low-income AIDS and HIV-positive patients. After years of negotiations, and recent controversy over funding distribution formulas, a compromise was formed to reauthorize the Ryan White program for three years, after which time Congress will be forced once again to address the program's structural issues and write a new law.

Under the bill passed last week, funding for AIDS programs would shift somewhat from states with large populations of AIDS patients to those with growing populations of patients with HIV. This funding change had previously alarmed Senators from New York and New Jersey, states with large urban areas and many AIDS patients, and they blocked the legislation from consideration. But the three-year compromise proposal, announced by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), eliminates the last two years of the original legislative proposal, when New York's and New Jersey's financial losses would have been greatest.

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CWLA Reiterates Call for All Members of Congress to Report Child Abuse and Neglect Based on Ethics Findings

In a December 12 press release, CWLA repeated its call for Members of Congress to enact legislation requiring that they be mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. The press statement was issued in light of the December 8, ethics committee report on the actions of Representative Mark Foley and other members and certain staff. Based on the report, it is clear there was no obvious path of action or guidance on how members of Congress should act when faced with potential allegations involving minors.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct issued recommendations on December 8, including that "all members, officers, and employees of the House must pursue specific allegations of improper interaction between a Member of the House or House employee and a participant in the House Page Program."

CWLA President and CEO Shay Bilchik, said, "The recommendations of the ethics committee comes close to calling for specific actions when allegations are made in regard to the potential abuse of minors, but it does not go far enough and is too vague. We believe Congress now needs to outline specific actions and steps that must be followed when information on suspected abuse is presented."

CWLA continues to be shocked over the apparent inaction to fully address this conduct when knowledge of it first became known. It's vital for Congress to act and send a clear message that any sort of abuse of children is intolerable and should be reported. To sufficiently exemplify their commitment to children, Congress should give this issue the same level of attention that state governments have given.

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CWLA Annual Hill Day and First-Ever Preconference Institute on Advocacy

CWLA's National Conference, Children 2007: Raising Our Voices for Children, February 25-28, will features the release of CWLA's 2007 Legislative Agenda, an institute on advocacy, and an entire day dedicated to constituent lobbying and advocacy at the U.S. Capitol.

Hill Day gives constituents the opportunity to actively promote CWLA's Legislative Agenda by meeting with Members of Congress and their staff concerning the issues affecting children, youth, and families.

Hill Day begins with presentations by leaders in Congress on their priorities for 2007, and briefings by the CWLA Government Affairs staff. At lunchtime, participants go to specific state and regional caucuses to discuss the issues, talking points, lobbying tips, and more general information. In the afternoon, Hill Day participants take a bus to the Capitol to meet with their Representatives and Senators.

We encourage everyone attending the conference to schedule meetings with your Members of Congress for Hill Day, beginning in January, after the new 110th Congress convenes. Stay tuned for contact information and tips on arranging visits.

This will be an energizing conference and one of the most important advocacy events for child welfare in 2007! Register for the conference online.

As part of the annual conference, CWLA is conducting a special institute on local advocacy, "Create Change: New Strategies and Lessons Learned Around Local Level Advocacy," to be held Sunday February 25, 1:00-5:00 pm. This institute will be dedicated to developing effective messages and creating and testing different approaches to advocacy. Guest presenters will discuss how to craft successful local messages and initiatives based on recent analysis. Create Change will be a great opportunity for child welfare advocates to develop local level strategy and messaging.

For more information about Create Change or Hill Day, contact Cristina Fahrenthold, at cfahrenthold@cwla.org or 202/942-0257.

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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.

Subscribe to Legislative Alerts.

Subscribe to Children's Monitor.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

January 3: First session of 110th Congress begins
February 5: Release of the President's 2008 budget request
February 15: Continuing resolution expires
February 2528: CWLA National Conference, Children 2007: Raising Our Voices for Children, in Washington DC


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