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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 5: 1/29/2007   
Headlines

Administration's Health Proposal Sparks Contentious Debate

Key House Committee to Review Proposals on Child Welfare Financing

Ways and Means Committee Holds Hearing on Poverty

House Likely to Take Up Final 2007 Funding Bill this Week

Minimum Wage Debate Continues in Senate

House Changes Oversight of Page Program

Still Time to Register and Make Your Voices Heard on Capitol Hill

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Administration's Health Proposal Sparks Contentious Debate

In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, President Bush proposed to expand health coverage by changing the tax code and redistributing current Medicaid funding to hospitals and other institutions, to help cover costs for caring for the uninsured.

The president's plan would give tax deductions of $7,500 to individuals and $15,000 to families for purchasing health insurance, regardless of the cost or type of insurance, or whether it is purchased through an employer. Currently, those who buy health insurance through their employers do not pay taxes on their health benefits, while others have to use taxed income to obtain health coverage.

A second part of President Bush's plan proposes to redirect up to $40 billion of federal Medicare and Medicaid disproportionate share and capital funds--which currently support safety-net institutions, mostly hospitals, that care for the uninsured--toward grants to help states make private health insurance more affordable.

Along with many other groups representing hospitals, consumers, labor, and health care providers, CWLA has voiced its opposition to this proposal. Specifically, in a press release issued shortly after the president finished his address, CWLA President and CEO Shay Bilchik said,

While we are pleased that the President has raised the critical issue of expanding access to health care, his narrowly tailored plan falls far short of a comprehensive solution and would undermine crucial federal safety net programs currently providing health care for the poor and uninsured...
Embracing the opportunity to expand children's health coverage through the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program would go a lot farther toward achieving this goal than the President's proposed tax code changes and Medicaid cuts.
The political outlook for the proposal is uncertain, as House Democrats, including House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-CA), widely criticized the plan. Stark declared it "dead on arrival."

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Key House Committee to Review Proposals on Child Welfare Financing

When Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) took over the chair of a key House subcommittee, subcommittee members took the opportunity to also change the subcommittee's name from the Subcommittee on Human Resources to the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support.

The new name was announced along with an agenda for the coming congress that includes oversight of the nation's child welfare system. The agenda was released as part of a letter to the House Rules Committee that outlines the Ways and Means agenda both at the full committee and the subcommittee level.

Under McDermott, the subcommittee listed six areas of oversight: vulnerable children, poverty, welfare and work programs, disconnected populations, unemployment compensation, and the Supplemental Security Insurance program. The letter indicates that, under the category of vulnerable children, the subcommittee will examine foster care, adoption assistance, and the Title IV-B prevention intervention programs. The disconnected population category includes a review of disconnected youth ages of 16-24.

Other subcommittee members include Democrats Shelley Berkley (D-NV), David Camp (R-MI), Artur Davis (D-AL), Phil English (R-PA), Wally Herger (R-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Michael McNulty (D-NY), Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Jon Porter (R-NV), Pete Stark (D-CA), and ranking member Jerry Weller (R-IL).

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Ways and Means Committee Holds Hearing on Poverty

On January 24, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing entitled "The Economic and Societal Costs of Poverty." Witnesses included Harry J. Holzer, professor at Georgetown University; Ron Haskins, Codirector for the Center on Children and Families; and Jane Knitzer, Director of the National Center for Children in Poverty.

Holzer emphasized that children who grow up in poverty are more likely as adults to have low earnings. He estimated the costs associated with childhood poverty total about $500 billion a year, noting that, as a result of childhood poverty, productivity and economic output are reduced by 1.3% of GDP, and that it raises health expenditures and reduces the value of health by 1.2% of GDP each year. Haskins noted that in 2005, the United States spent $600 billion on programs for poor and low-income individuals; however, the child poverty rate is at an alarming 17.6%.

Knitzer cited research indicating it takes about twice the poverty level to provide basic necessities for a family. For a family of four, just the basic necessities cost about $40,000, not the $20,650 as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services, or the $19,971 threshold the U.S. Census Bureau set for 2005. She stressed that families need help that does not necessarily disappear as their income increases.

Knitzer also pointed out that 60% of families receiving TANF are not working--in many cases due to trauma, substance abuse, or similar crises. She noted that resources must be in place for families suffering from these issues or they will continue to live in poverty, raising their children with poor preventative care and other deficits, which will cycle back to poverty for them in later life.

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House Likely to Take Up Final 2007 Funding Bill this Week

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has indicated the House would likely take up and pass one final continuing resolution (CR) for the year by January 31. The federal government is operating under a CR, which extends almost all federal departments' funding until February 15. All departments except Defense and Homeland Security are being funded at the lower of the House- or Senate-passed appropriations bills, with the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education budget funded at 2006 levels. The plan is to adopt a CR that will run through the rest of FY 2007. Congress will attempt to fund programs at the 2006 level ,with some adjustments in some areas. All earmarks would be dropped for 2007. The House leadership intends to pass the CR without amendments.

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Minimum Wage Debate Continues in Senate

On January 24, Senators rejected an effort to hold a straight up-or-down vote on a stand-alone minimum wage increase. The Senate is now considering a strategy of attaching a set of small-business tax breaks as part of the minimum wage increase. The minimum wage bill would raise the current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over two years.

House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are opposed to attaching the minimum wage and tax proposals. Pelosi has indicated willingness to pass a tax bill separately. Included in the tax package is an extension of the work opportunity tax credit, which gives a tax deduction to businesses hiring welfare recipients and other low-income workers. Another provision would expand the write-off or depreciation of some business property.

One of the more controversial ways to pay for some of the tax expansions is a proposal that would limit how much corporations can pass on to top executives in deferred tax-free compensation. Business groups oppose both the wage increase and the tax package.

The Senate did approve, on a bipartisan basis, an amendment by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) to provide some limited federal matching funds to small businesses to start child care centers for their employees. The fund would total $50 million over five years, and grants would be $500,000. The Senate is expected to complete work on the minimum wage bill and a series of amendments this week.

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House Changes Oversight of Page Program

The House adopted changes to the oversight of the House page program early last week. The program, which allows approximately 70 young people per year, ages 16-18, to spend time working in the U.S. House of Representatives in support rolls, came under scrutiny late last year when Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) was forced from office as a result of ongoing inappropriate contact with former pages. The scandal caused national headlines, and CWLA called on Congress to require all members of Congress to be mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.

The changes fall short of that goal but do alter the composition of the page oversight board. Now the board will have equal numbers of Representatives from both parties, a member representing pages, and one representing parents.

Earlier in the week, the Office of Inspector General (IG) released a report on the FBI's role in the scandal. The IG report indicated that public statements by the FBI in defense of its inaction in the matter were not true. The FBI said it had not investigated the situation in July 2006 because it had not received sufficient information from an outside ethics group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), to conduct an investigation. CREW asked for an investigation based on information it had submitted, and the FBI said that the e-mails provided to it had been heavily edited and did not prompt such an inquiry. The IG rejected that defense. The e-mails were made public last September through the press, prompting the Foley resignation, a congressional investigation, and an ongoing FBI investigation.

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Still Time to Register and Make Your Voices Heard on Capitol Hill

CWLA's national conference, Children 2007: Raising Our Voices for Children, will be held February 25-28. On Tuesday, February 27, CWLA will host its annual Hill Day event. This event will be especially vital in getting child welfare issues on the national agenda, since there is a new Congress in place, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) talks frequently about the importance of children.

Hill Day is an excellent opportunity to meet with members of Congress and key staff. Every year, this event brings together hundreds of participants who carry a strong message to Capitol Hill. This will be an energizing day and one of the most significant advocacy actions for child welfare in 2007.

Hill Day gives constituents the opportunity to actively promote CWLA's 2007 Legislative Agenda which will be officially released during the conference. 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 and staff.

We encourage everyone attending the conference to schedule meetings with your Members of Congress for Hill Day. CWLA can provide contact information and tips on arranging visits, or you can contact your state leader State Leaders are leaders in the field, advocates in their states, and volunteers with CWLA to lead their states' delegations to Capitol Hill. Contact your State Leader today!

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 p.m. This institute will be dedicated to developing effective messaging 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.

Register for the conference at online. For more information about Create Change or Hill Day, contact Cristina Fahrenthold, CWLA Government Affairs, 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

February 5: Release of the President's FY 2008 budget request
February 15: Continuing resolution expires
February 25-28: CWLA National Conference, Children 2007: Raising Our Voices for Children, in Washington DC
March 15: Tentative deadline for House to debate FY 2008 budget resolution


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