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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 15: 4/16/2007   
Headlines

Congress Has Long Agenda for Spring

CWLA Issues Joint Paper on Educational Needs of Children in Foster Care

SCHIP Proposals Coming Forward

CWLA Submits Testimony to Senate Finance Committee

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Congress Has Long Agenda for Spring

With the House back in session this week, Congress will embark on a busy spring session that will run until the Memorial Day break on May 26. The first task is for both houses to agree to a budget resolution that combines what the House and Senate passed in late March.

The two resolutions (H. Con. Res. 99 and S. Con. Res. 21) are similar in spending totals, but the House resolution allows for $5 billion more in discretionary spending than does the Senate. Both resolutions allow for spending outside of defense and homeland security beyond the level of inflation, whereas the President's budget would force cuts in many domestic programs. Much of the proposed increase would likely be in education, health research, and veterans affairs. CWLA has asked budget writers to include the House discretionary funding level.

Once a budget resolution is agreed to, both houses will start the process of adopting some of the required 12 appropriations bills for FY 2008.

In addition to determining a final budget resolution, Congress will have to agree to one supplemental bill and then send that legislation to the President for a likely veto. The appropriations bills (H.R. 1591/Senate Substitute H.R. 1591) in both houses set conditions on the supplemental war funding, and the President has indicated his opposition to any legislation directing troop withdrawals.

The supplemental bills both include important funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Several states will run short of SCHIP funding at some point in May. The supplemental bills also include a minimum wage increase passed earlier in both houses, but the inclusion of that bill is more a way of advancing the discussion between the House and Senate over the differing tax cut packages they have attached to the wage increase.

In addition to the critical spending issues, Congress is likely to take up a reauthorization of the Head Start law. Both the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee have passed their own versions of reauthorizing legislation (H.R. 1429 and S. 556, respectively). Floor debate is expected in the spring.

The Senate also wants to start serious debate over the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The law is the main federal source of education funding and has been the focus of intense debate since its enactment at the start of the Bush administration. There is also the possibility that reauthorization of SCHIP will begin in one or both of the houses.

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CWLA Issues Joint Paper on Educational Needs of Children in Foster Care

On March 30, CWLA issued a joint statement on recommended changes in education law in an effort to improve outcomes for children in care. The document was drafted by a group that includes the Catholic Charities, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Children's Defense Fund, Lutheran Services, and Voices for America's Children.

The Senate is beginning serious discussion on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Act, the major source of funding for federal aid to education. As part of that action, Congress will also reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which includes provisions on the educational needs of homeless children and youth.

The current law also applies to "children awaiting" foster care, a definition that causes some confusion about whether children in foster care can be or are covered by the provisions of the law. States have varied in how they address the issue. The document highlights some of the challenges and outcomes faced by children in foster care. These include struggling academically, with lower graduation rates, reading abilities, and overall academic performance than their peers who are not in foster care. Other challenges include the high mobility of some children in foster care, who experience on average one or two different foster placements each year, and changes in living arrangements. These high school mobility rates affect education outcomes, resulting in failing grades, behavior problems, and decreased likelihood of completing high school.

The Senate HELP Committee and the House Education and Labor committees have jurisdiction over the education reauthorization law.

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SCHIP Proposals Coming Forward

With the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) set to expire on September 30, various bills addressing reauthorization of the program, either on a peripheral or comprehensive basis, are beginning to come forward.

Providing health coverage to approximately 6 million children, SCHIP has been a successful means by which to insure children whose parents do not have access to or cannot afford private health insurance. At an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress on March 29, House Energy and Commerce Chair John D. Dingell (D-MI) called SCHIP "one of the best ideas to come out of Congress in all my years on Capitol Hill" and a "testament to what Congress can accomplish when we are willing to put partisanship aside and put our children first."

In mid-March, the Children's Health First Act was introduced by Dingell in the House (H.R. 1535) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) in the Senate (S. 895). This legislation seeks to provide all children with quality, affordable health coverage. Among other provisions, the act would create federal funding incentives to states that expand children's health coverage in families up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($70,000 for a family of three) through SCHIP and increased federal payments for states that expand coverage below that amount.

Dingell also introduced the Children's Dental Health Improvement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1781), which would require dental coverage for any SCHIP benefit package and allow states to use SCHIP to provide wraparound coverage for children relying on private insurance. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) offered a similar dental bill in the Senate (S. 739).

The Administration has already expressed concern over wide-reaching expansion of the program, fearing eventual replacement of private insurance, and desiring instead to refocus SCHIP on low-income children. The New York Times recently quoted Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt as saying that SCHIP "should not be the vehicle by which we insure every adult and child in America."

Dingell plans to hold hearings soon so individuals and experts from both sides of the aisle can weigh in and increase the likelihood of legislative victory.

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CWLA Submits Testimony to Senate Finance Committee

On March 22, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing entitled "Keeping America's Promise: Health Care and Child Welfare Services for Native Americans." CWLA seized the opportunity to submit testimony on Title IV-E access to tribes and the benefits of passing subsidized guardianship legislation. CWLA's statement is online.

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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

April 1-30: Child Abuse Prevention Month
May 1-31: Foster Care Awareness Month
May 13: Mothers Day and Care About Kinship Week: Sponsor S. 661
May 26-June 3: Congressional Memorial Day Break


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