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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 6: 2/5/2007   
Headlines

House Approves FY 2007 Human Service Spending at 2006 Levels

New Congress Formally Rejects SSBG Cut

Fix Introduced for SCHIP Shortfall

Mental Health Legislation Gains Momentum in 110th Congress

Minimum Wage Moves Forward

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

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Approves FY 2007 Human Service Spending at 2006 Levels

The new Congress acted last week to finish the appropriations left over by the previous Congress by passing a continuing resolution (CR) that will last through the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2007. The House approved the measure by a vote of 286-140, without amendment, on January 31, and the Senate is expected to complete action this week.

The CR (H.J. Res. 20) allocates $463 billion in discretionary funding for FY 2007. For the most part, the CR funds programs at the FY 2006 level. By eliminating earmarks and taking unobligated or unspent funds, the CR reallocates some funds in certain areas, including education, health, and law enforcement. The CR provides an increase over the President's budget request by $104 million in Head Start, and provides an increase of $75 million for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS grant program.

Other increases come in housing; health research, through the National Institutes for Health; local law enforcement, through the COPS program; veterans' health; and K-12 education. In child welfare, the previous Senate-proposed cut of $14 million in Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF), which CWLA had opposed, was rejected; the program will remain at the 2006 level of $394 million. The CR does reduce adoption incentive payments to $5 million. Last year, the incentive fund allocated $11 million to 21 states. Funding has decreased over the last few years as increases in adoptions have leveled off.

Late last year, Representative David Obey (D-WI) and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who chair the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, respectively, indicated the only way they would be able to give full focus to the debate on the upcoming FY 2008 budget is if they passed a CR that in most cases provided a freeze in funding for the remainder of FY 2007. They also said they would eliminate earmarks in part to free up some funds. The federal government is operating under a CR that had been passed as one of the last acts of the 109th Congress. The 109th Congress passed only 2 of the 12 appropriations bills, for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. All departments except those two were 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 CR now goes to the Senate, where the path to final approval is less clear. Some Senators complain the CR does not provide enough to address the transition that takes place when the Defense Department starts to implement its base closing plans. Whether Senators will be allowed to offer amendments also is unclear. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) had indicated she would like to increase funding for base closings by imposing an across-the-board cut to all programs. Any changes in the CR would force a revote or negotiation with the House. The current CR expires February 15. If the Senate passes the CR, attention will shift quickly to the FY 2008 budget, with the Bush Administration releasing its proposal today.

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New Congress Formally Rejects SSBG Cut

In adopting the final CR, the new Congress will formally reject the Administration's attempt to cut funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) by half a billion dollars. The Budget and Appropriations Committees had rejected the Administration proposal last year during committee debates, but this action makes it official. The Administration will quite possibly once again propose reducing SSBG from its current $1.7 billion to $1.2 billion.

While Congress was delaying final action on a final FY 2007 appropriation for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration had taken the initiative of directing state agencies to submit their annual preexpenditure reports for SSBG to include the proposed cut. Some states had, in turn, directed programs and local governments to assume the cuts in SSBG.

CWLA joined with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) in asking the Administration to stop this directive, since Congress had indicated it would not cut SSBG. The Administration argued it had such authority. If the Administration resubmits the cut in its 2008 budget, the same issue may surface again, and this time it may draw congressional interest.

More information on the Administration directive is available online.

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Fix Introduced for SCHIP Shortfall

Efforts to expand funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) are under way in the 110th Congress. Although legislation to officially reauthorize SCHIP is not likely to move through Congress until later this spring, several Senators have introduced a bill to address immediate funding shortfalls in the program, which would impact 14 states later this year if not addressed. An SCHIP funding shortfall of an estimated $800 million to $950 million had been predicted to occur in 17–18 states this year.

In the waning days of the last legislative session in December, Congress passed the National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006, which served as a stopgap measure by redistributing portions of unspent 2004 and 2005 SCHIP funds to cover $124 million of the earliest projected 2007 funding shortfalls. The Congressional Research Service, however, estimates an additional $745 million is necessary to eliminate the shortfalls entirely this year.

On January 25, Senators John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Olympia Snow (R-ME), and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S. 401, The Keep Children Covered Act, which would address federal SCHIP funding shortfalls this year still facing Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

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Mental Health Legislation Gains Momentum in 110th Congress

Legislation to improve the nation's mental health system is gaining momentum in the 110th Congress, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has promised to bring mental health parity legislation up for a floor vote later this year. Representatives Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) are preparing to reintroduce the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act and have embarked on a nationwide tour, traveling to forums in major cities to hear testimony from Americans whose lives have been touched by mental illness and addiction.

The bill would require group health plans to offer benefits for mental health and addiction on the same terms as care for other diseases, and would close loopholes that allow health plans to charge higher copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles for mental health care. Mental health parity legislation has had majority support in past Congresses, but House leadership has blocked floor consideration until now.

Ramstad, Kennedy, and Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced another key piece of mental health legislation, the Keeping Families Together Act, on January 24. This bill focuses on improving the children's mental health system and would provide $100 million in grants to states to help parents obtain necessary mental health treatment for their mentally ill children so they are not forced to relinquish custody. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

The bill is in response to an April 2003 U.S. Government Accountability Office report that found 12,700 children from 19 states were placed in state custody in 2001 solely to obtain mental health treatment.

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Minimum Wage Moves Forward

The Senate had all but agreed to move a minimum wage increase as last week drew to a close. On January 30, Senators approved an effort to limit debate and move a bill that combines a minimum wage increase with a set of small business tax breaks. The bill would raise the current rate of $5.15 an hour to $7.25, over two years. The first part of the increase would occur within 60 days.

How discussions will go with House Democratic leadership, which has opposed combining the wage proposal with tax cuts for businesses, is unclear. Some have argued a minimum wage increase has not been adopted in 10 years and several billions of dollars in business tax cuts have been adopted over the same period. 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. There are also provisions to 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 to limit how much corporations can pass on to top executives in deferred tax-free compensation. There would be an annual cap of $1 million under the tax change.

Business groups oppose both the wage increase and the tax package. A little-noticed consequence of the minimum wage debate is the fact the FY 2007 budget prevents members of Congress from receiving their annual cost-of-living increase because if they have failed to pass the minimum wage increase.

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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 2008 budget request
February 19-23: Presidents Day Recess
February 25-28: CWLA National Conference, Children 2007: Raising Our Voices for Children, in Washington, DC
March 15: Tentative deadline for House to debate 2008 budget resolution


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