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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 8: 2/19/2007   
Headlines

Christine James-Brown Named CWLA President/CEO

Congress Completes Action on FY 2007 Budget

Head Start Gets Bipartisan Start in Senate

Senate Committee Adopts Mental Health Parity Bill Endorsed by CWLA

CWLA Signs Coalition Letter Calling for Increased SCHIP Funding

Under McDermott, Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Poverty

House Holds Hearing on Youth Violence Prevention

House Moves Tax Bill to Go with Minimum Wage

Make Your Voice Heard on Capitol Hill

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Christine James-Brown Named CWLA President/CEO

CWLA is pleased to announce the appointment of Christine James-Brown as its new President and CEO. Currently CEO of United Way International, she will assume her duties at CWLA April 2, 2007. For more information on Christine, visit our website.

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Congress Completes Action on FY 2007 Budget

The Senate has given final approval to a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year. The President was expected to sign the legislation into law by the weekend. The CR (H.J. Res 20) provides funding equal to FY 2006, with a few exceptions.

Through a parliamentary maneuver, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked any amendments to the CR, to the frustration of some Republican Senators. Some Senators criticized the CR's reduction in defense base closing funding, which had been inserted by last year's Congress. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was attempting to restore the funding by imposing an across-the-board cut to all domestic spending, but Reid's action blocked that amendment.

Congress will now devote all budget attention to the debate over the FY 2008 appropriations. For more information go to our website.

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Head Start Gets Bipartisan Start in Senate

On February 14, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Pensions, and Labor (HELP) adopted by voice vote S. 556 to reauthorize the Head Start program, which has not happened since 1998. The bill authorizes spending at $7.3 billion in FY 2008, $7.5 billion in 2009, $7.9 billion in 2010 and "such sums as necessary" though 2012. Head Start funding is increased by $103.7 million in FY 2007 as a result of the CR just adopted by the Senate. That makes total funding just under $6.8 billion in FY 2007, and the President's proposed budget for 2008 would result in a $100 million cut.

Head Start was scheduled for reauthorization in 2003 but has been entangled in debate and disagreement over the Administration's original proposal to convert Head Start into a state block grant. The program has always been a federal-local partnership. Since 2003, Congress has agreed to maintain the current structure and has attempted to resolve a series of other issues that have been raised in the last two Congresses. The current bill doubles the set-aside funding to 20% for the Early Head Start program and provides 4% for American Indian children and 5% for children of migrant and seasonal workers. The early and quick action bodes well for Congress to finally agree to a bill. The full Senate has not debated this issue since the last reauthorization in 1998.

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Senate Committee Adopts Mental Health Parity Bill Endorsed by CWLA

In addition to unanimously voting for legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program, the Senate HELP Committee also voted 18-3 in favor of S. 558, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007. Committee Chair Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY), along with Senator Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), led efforts to bring this measure to a committee vote early in the 110th Congress. After the vote, Kennedy indicated he will push for full Senate action on the bill within the next few months.

Earlier, CWLA sent a letter to these three senators thanking them for their efforts and endorsing the legislation, which would require businesses with more than 50 workers to provide mental health coverage equal to coverage for other medical conditions.

The legislation represents a compromise between lawmakers, insurers, mental health advocates, and businesses, and does have limits. The bill's provisions only apply to private group health plans and would not require businesses to offer mental health benefits. Rather, the bill requires that if businesses do offer mental health benefits through their health plans, they must embody parity with other medical benefits in such areas as patient deductibles, copayments, and annual and lifetime coverage limits, as well as covered hospital days and visits. In addition, the legislation includes a cost exemption for businesses, allowing health plans to be exempted from the parity requirements if experience shows increased health care costs exceeding 2% of total plan costs during the first year, or 1% of total plan costs in subsequent years.

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CWLA Signs Coalition Letter Calling for Increased SCHIP Funding

The President's 2008 budget proposal includes inadequate funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for the next five years and proposes limiting coverage to children living in families with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level. At least 16 states now cover children in families with incomes exceeding this level.

As part of SCHIP reauthorization, the President's budget would provide $5 billion in additional funding for the program over five years, even though it is widely accepted that an additional $12 to $15 billion is needed over the next five years just to continue the program's current level of children's health coverage. The proposal would limit coverage of the SCHIP program at a time when many states and advocates are attempting to enhance and extend its coverage through the reauthorization process this year. In addition, for 2008, the President's budget provides $5.4 billion in funding, a decrease of $223 million from the funding level in the FY 2007 CR, and not nearly enough to address current funding shortfalls of $745 million estimated to affect 14 states later this year.

CWLA joined an array of other advocacy groups last week in sending a letter to Congress asking that SCHIP reauthorization legislation provide $60 billion in new federal funding for children's health over the next five years. This level of funding would allow states to enroll most of the uninsured children already eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP and would also provide support for states to further expand coverage for more children. The letter urged lawmakers not to cut Medicaid funding to pay for such an expansion in SCHIP, and not to force states to scale back current coverage.

The letter further advocates providing states with additional flexibility to expand coverage, including a state option to cover pregnant women through SCHIP without requiring a waiver, and the ability to provide SCHIP and Medicaid coverage to legal immigrant children and pregnant women who currently cannot be covered until they have been in the country five years. In addition, the letter calls on Congress to establish a new child health quality initiative reflecting children's health care needs, to ensure that coverage can be used to gain access to a range of developmentally appropriate services, including mental health and dental care.

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Under McDermott, Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Poverty

On February 13, under the leadership of Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Supports held a hearing on economic opportunity and poverty in America. Two panels provided oral and written testimony.

The first panel comprised five citizens who are faced with economic hardships. The panelists came from diverse communities, such as Gaithersburg and Baltimore, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; and New York City. Each told their story of struggle with access to adequate health care, housing, educational resources, child care, job training and placement, energy assistance, and so on. The second panel included researchers from the Brookings Institution, Policy Link, the Center for Policy Research, the Heritage Foundation, and the Economic Policy Institute.

Subcommittee members expressed deep concerns regarding poverty, as well as philosophical and ideological differences on how to address it. Testimony is available online.

CWLA submitted testimony on poverty last month to the full Ways and Means Committee.

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House Holds Hearing on Youth Violence Prevention

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing entitled, "Making Communities Safer: Youth Violence and Gang Interventions that Work." The hearing was the first under the new leadership in the House and was chaired by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), a long-time champion of proven, effective prevention strategies as the best approach to reducing violence and keeping young people on the right track.

Witnesses included some of the nation's leading experts on prevention and intervention strategies, including Delbert Elliott, Director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado; Jeffrey Butts, Senior Researcher at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago; James Corwin, Chief of Police, Kansas City, Missouri; David Kennedy, Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York; Teny Gross, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, Providence, Rhode Island; and Mia Fernandez, Legal and Strategy Director at the Latin American Youth Center, Washington, DC.

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House Moves Tax Bill to Go with Minimum Wage

The House of Representatives last week adopted a tax cut package of $1.3 billion, with the intent of attaching it to the minimum wage bill passed earlier this year (H.R. 2). The Senate has adopted a larger package of tax cuts as part of its minimum wage bill (S. 2). The House action sets the stage for final negotiation over just how large a tax cut will be necessary to get an agreement on the minimum wage bill. Both bills would raise the current rate of $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over two years.

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Make Your Voice 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 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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