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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 12: 3/19/2007   
Headlines

Senate Budget Resolution Moves Forward with More Funds

Congressional Leaders Rally with Children's Health Advocates for Increased SCHIP Funding

Briefing and New Report on Kinship Care

Capitol Hill Briefings Held on Juvenile Justice

Head Start Bill Moves Without Religious Hiring Provision

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Senate Budget Resolution Moves Forward with More Funds

Last week, the Senate Budget Committee began the 2008 congressional debate on the budget resolution when Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) unveiled a resolution that would provide approximately $18 billion more in discretionary spending than the President has requested, which would freeze or cut funding in most nondefense and nonhomeland security funding.

Conrad said the budget resolution would put the country on a path toward a balanced budget by 2012. The resolution assumes certain growth in revenue by greater collection of tax revenue that now goes uncollected due to noncompliance or various tax shelters. Republican members, led by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) challenged the numbers and criticized the spending levels in the bill.

The budget resolution will be debated by the full Senate in the next week, and the House will also have to adopt its own resolution. Once both Houses have acted, they will have to agree to one resolution.

That resolution then sets limits on what each appropriations committee can spend and what each committee can adopt in new mandatory or entitlement spending. CWLA called on budget writers and the committees to include mandatory funding that would allow Congress to address kinship care, fix the IV-E eligibility look back, and provide direct access to IV-E funds by tribal governments.

The budget resolution is not required to be signed by the President, so if Senate and House leaders agree, Congress will be on track to adopt increases in discretionary nondefense and nonhomeland security funds for the first time in several years.

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Congressional Leaders Rally with Children's Health Advocates for Increased SCHIP Funding

At a March 14 rally on the U.S. Capitol grounds, sponsored by the Children's Health Fund and the Campaign for Children's Health Care, several key congressional leaders spoke and called on Congress to not only reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), but to provide additional funds to ensure the program's expansion. Senator Robert P. Casey (D-PA) labeled SCHIP's reauthorization his top priority, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) called it a "worthy" and "achievable" goal, declaring that "no child in a country as prosperous as ours should be without medical coverage."

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Representative Jim Ramstad (R-MN) also attended the rally and were highly supportive. At a separate reporters' briefing, Pallone said the House would likely vote on a supplemental spending bill that includes $700 million to $750 million for the 14 states expected to experience a shortfall in SCHIP funds as early as May. Georgia is one of these vulnerable states, waiting anxiously for Congress to authorize additional money. Facing an imminent federal funding shortfall of $131 million, Georgia has implemented a freeze on new applications to its SCHIP program, PeachCare, and has agreed to shift state funds already budgeted for Medicaid so current enrollees are not dropped.

The exact amount of additional funds necessary for SCHIP's expansion is being debated, but Congress's recent and upcoming actions are promising. Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) said the Senate budget resolution would provide $15 billion for SCHIP that has already been offset and paid for, plus up to $35 billion in a reserve fund that has to be offset for money to be released. This would be a total of $50 billion in additional funds over five years—an amount already endorsed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) promised the House budget resolution, expected to be debated by the Budget Committee March 19, would include a budget-neutral reserve fund to cover all children eligible for SCHIP.

Underscoring the importance of reauthorization and expansion of SCHIP is an astonishing report just released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that reveals only 47% of working parents in families with annual incomes of less than $40,000 are being offered health insurance benefits through their employers—a 9% decrease over the past decade. Many of these families decreasingly are being offered insurance on the job, and they are unable to afford it on their own, so they rely greatly on SCHIP and its many benefits.

As Representative Ramstad indicated at the rally, widening the net to assist these families is an obligation of society, and "we must not flunk this moral test."

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Briefing and New Report on Kinship Care

On March 15, Generations United (GU) hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on kinship care. CWLA cosponsored the briefing, which featured a new report by GU, Time for Reform: Support Relatives in Providing Foster Care and Permanent Families for Children, that highlights outcomes for children in relative care. The report discusses how federal support for subsidized guardianship could help move some children, for whom reunification or adoption is not possible, from foster care to safe, permanent families. Speakers on the panel included Donna Butts, Generations United; Leslie Cohen and Nancy Rolock, the Children and Family Research Center; and Mary C. Scott, AARP.

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Thad Cochran (R-MS) have reintroduced the Kinship Caregiver Support Act, S. 661, which would extend Title IV-E funding to kinship placements and help states establish kinship navigator programs. The bill has been cosponsored by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and John Kerry (D-MA). Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) is expected to reintroduce his version of the legislation soon.

To read a copy of the GU report go to www.gu.org and click on Time For Reform.

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Capitol Hill Briefings Held on Juvenile Justice

CWLA participated in two Capitol Hill briefings on March 13 that focused on funding and reauthorization of juvenile justice programs. Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) spoke at the briefing for the House of Representatives. McCarthy Chairs the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities, which has jurisdiction over the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which governs the federal role in juvenile justice and is scheduled to be reauthorized this year. McCarthy spoke about the need to focus on successful strategies such as afterschool programs and to do more on delinquency prevention. She commented that we know what works and that there needs to be a greater investment is these approaches.

The Senate briefing was sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), who are the Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over JJDPA in that body.

Presenters at the briefings included Steve Tuck, Regional Director of the Children's Home Society of West Virginia, and Jessica Cutright, a youth participant in their afterschool program. They spoke about the activities they are involved in and the positive effect the program has had on the young people in the community. They each stressed the need for Congress to continue to fund these efforts.

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Head Start Bill Moves Without Religious Hiring Provision

On March 14, the House Education and Labor Committee adopted, by a vote of 42-1, the Improving Head Start Act, H.R. 1429, a bill to reauthorize the Head Start program. Despite the near unanimous vote, committee members debated several amendments and adopted many. Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) was successful in attaching an amendment to strengthen home visiting programs, an amendment was added to allow some discretion in the use of funds for transportation, and one amendment added language to protect confidentiality.

The longest debate was on an amendment that would allow religious-based Head Start providers to discriminate in their hiring process. In the last Congress, the House adopted a Head Start reauthorization bill (H.R. 2123) that included this provision, and that amendment was a major reason the legislation was never debated on the House floor in the last Congress. This time around, the amendment, offered by Representative Luis Fortuno (R-PR) and was rejected along party lines by a vote of 26-19.

Other provisions in the reauthorization include higher teacher standards by requiring 50% of Head Start teachers to have a BA degree by 2013. This standard would be calculated on a national basis and not on a center-by-center basis as earlier congressional versions proposed. Early Head Start funding rises from 12% of total funding in 2008 to 20% by 2012, provided increased funding is appropriated by future congresses to cover both the early Head Start population and the overall Head Start population.

The bill also suspends the controversial National Reporting System. This is a classroom testing program the administration had attempted to impose on Head Start programs. HHS is directed to rely on a field of experts, including the National Academy of Sciences, before developing any such tests or evaluation.

The funding level in the House bill is set at $7.3 billion in 2008. Currently, Head Start is funded at $6.8 billion. After 2008, the bill proposes to fund the program with "such sums as necessary," which is standard legislative language when a future authorization level cannot be agreed to. The Senate bill, the Head Start for School Readiness Act, S. 556, provides $7.3 billion; that would increase to $7.5 billion in 2009 and $7.9 billion in 2010.

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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.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

March 19-23: Senate committees target to debate 2008 budget resolution
March 26-30: House committees target to debate 2008 budget resolution
April 1: Child Abuse Prevention Month begins
April 2-9: Senate Spring Recess
April 2-13: House Spring Recess
May 1: Foster Care Month begins
May 13: Mothers Day and Sponsor Kinship Care Legislation Week


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