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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 25: 6/25/2007   
Headlines

Senate Approves Head Start, Moves Closer to Reauthorization

House Subcommittee Addresses Disconnected and Disadvantaged Youth

Census Victory on Foster Care

Senate HHS Funding Bill Moves Out of Subcommittee with Lower Numbers than House

Portman Out, Nussle in as Budget Head

CWLA Supports Range of Funding Alternatives as SCHIP Markup Nears

Teen Report Card Grades Adults Poorly on Governing and School Violence

Kaiser Family Foundation: Forum to Release National Survey of Parents on Children and Media

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Senate Approves Head Start, Moves Closer to Reauthorization

Last Tuesday, the Senate approved a Head Start reauthorization bill by voice vote. The Senate substituted their language into the House-passed bill (H.R. 1429). The next step is for a conference committee made up of House and Senate members to draft a final compromise bill. The Senate bill would reauthorize the Head Start program at $7.3 billion in FY 2008, $7.5 billion in 2009, $7.9 billion in 2010, and "such sums as necessary" through 2012. The House bill is set at $7.3 billion in 2008, and after that 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 upon. In a disappointing response from both appropriations committees, Head Start did not receive the $7.3 billion in 2008 but funding was set at $6.963 billion in the House and $7.088 billion in the Senate.

The last time Congress actually approved a reauthorization for Head Start was in 1998. That reauthorization ran out in 2003 but has been entangled over the administration's proposed changes, which include converting Head Start into a state block grant and moving it out of the Department of Health and Human Services. Both the House and Senate Head Start reauthorization bills reject these changes as well as the administration's controversial National Reporting System, including testing of 4-year-olds. Critics argued such testing was inappropriate and harmful for the children targeted and said there are better ways to assess Head Start effectiveness.

The two houses will now have to settle their differences. Both increase various set-asides; for example, the amount of money designated for the Early Head Start program with the Senate gradually increases this mark to 20%. There are also differences over the increased education requirements for teachers, with the Senate bill setting a goal of 50% of all center-based teachers having a bachelor's degree by 2012. The House requires 50% of teachers nationwide to have a bachelor's degree. The Senate target would be harder to reach because it's measured by center, not nationally. While there is support for increased teacher requirements, it also requires significantly more money to train staff and to keep them at centers by increasing their salaries. Both bills allow some flexibility in eligibility to increase to 130% of poverty under certain circumstances. The 130% figure is approximately $26,000 for a family of four. It is likely a final bill could be ready for congressional action in July.

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House Subcommittee Addresses Disconnected and Disadvantaged Youth

On June 19, the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support held a hearing on Disconnected and Disadvantaged Youth. Panelists included two members of Congress, John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and recording artist Jewel.

Representative Yarmuth articulated the need for a comprehensive system that would connect and monitor the various programs and services available to disconnected youth. He also urged Congress to provide health care coverage to the 3 million homeless children in America, as well as expand programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to include disconnected youth who have children. Representative Bachmann, who indicated that she has raised 23 foster care children, spoke about the benefits of school choice and the importance of extending the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act to encompass foster children of all ages. Jewel talked about her experience as a homeless youth, describing the isolation, embarrassment, and desperation that characterized her adolescence. Jewel noted that she would have taken advantage of street outreach programs as a homeless teen if she had been aware of such services. She urged Congress to improve community-based intervention programs and raise public awareness of youth homelessness.

The subcommittee heard from Deborah Shore, Executive Director, Sasha Bruce Youthwork, and DeCario Whitfield, a program participant at Sasha Bruce. Shore outlined the risk factors that contribute to youth homelessness and advocated a strength-based, family-focused approach to confronting youth homelessness. Whitfield described his life as a child growing up without a supportive family, then as a 16-year-old living in jail, and finally as a 19-year-old enrolled in the Sasha Bruce Youthbuild program. Whitfield's story exemplified the notion that supportive programs and services allow disconnected youth to conduct normal lives.

Dr. Ronald B. Mincy from Columbia University highlighted the social, moral, and financial reasons for helping reintegrate disconnected youth into school and work. He argued that our nation depends on these young people for a stable workforce and economy, as well as for intergenerational social mobility, and he urged Congress to act now in order to save money later. Dan Lips from the Heritage Foundation described the unstable school environment of foster care children who are constantly forced to transfer schools. Lips offered three suggestions for Congress: request that the Government Accountability Office compile research on the frequency of foster children's school transfers; reform the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act; and offer opportunity scholarships to foster children in Washington, DC. Lips reinforced the importance of establishing school choice in order to provide youth with some sense of stability. CWLA also submitted a testimony for the record, which can be read on our website. Read the testimony from the entire hearing.

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Census Victory on Foster Care

The U.S. Census Bureau decided to maintain the "foster child" category in the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2008 and beyond. U.S. Census Bureau Director Charles Kincannon reported the news in response to a letter sent by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee Chairman Lacy Clay (D-MO). In the last few years, the bureau has suggested the category took up too much room and was an inaccurate count, among other shortcomings.

In April, CWLA sent a letter and weighed in with a key congressional committee arguing for the need to maintain the category. The need to maintain the foster child category received additional support from child welfare researchers, advocates, and congressional leaders who felt that removing the category would prevent the collection of data that is not available from state foster care records. The Census and the American Community Survey represent the only information source on the economic well-being of children in foster care, the race and ethnicity of foster parents, and the overall living arrangements for foster children, including household size. The Census and the American Community Survey also enhance audiences' understanding of the status of relative caregivers, who represent about one-third of all foster care placements.

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Senate HHS Funding Bill Moves Out of Subcommittee with Lower Numbers than House

On Tuesday and Thursday of last week, the Senate Subcommittee and then-full Appropriations Committee adopted an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor-Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS). At press time the full committee was still debating the final details of the Senate package, but the overall makeup was not likely to change.

The Senate bill provides a 3% increase over current FY 2007, at $149 billion in discretionary funding, which also equates to 6% more than the President's budget request. The Senate numbers, however, are slightly lower than the House bill, which spends $1.9 billion more than the Senate version. The White House has indicated the President would veto any bill that exceeds his request despite the fact that the President's budget would require cuts in many programs that have been frozen for several years.

The Senate bill puts less into some education programs than the House bill but increases funding beyond the President's request. The Senate bill also does not fund some administration programs at the same level as the House. The Senate bill provides less for abstinence education and the Compassion Capitol Fund than what the President had asked for or what the House committee has approved. The Senate subcommittee bill provided a $200 million increase for Head Start--more than the House version--but provided no increase in child care funding. A Labor-HHS bill will be taken up on the House floor after the July 4 break.

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Portman Out, Nussle in as Budget Head

Rob Portman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced he was leaving the administration last week. Portman, who is a former Representative from the state of Ohio, will be replaced by another former Representative, Jim Nussle from Iowa. Nussle served as head of the House Budget Committee under the Republican leadership. He left last year to run for Governor of Iowa but lost that bid. OMB is the counterpart to the Congressional Budget Office. Both departments calculate how much a piece of legislation will cost. This "scoring" of a bill has tremendous influence over how bills are written and, frequently, if they get passed. The new role for Nussle promises to be challenging as the President has threatened to veto any bill by the Democratic Congress if it exceeds the President's 2008 budget request.

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CWLA Supports Range of Funding Alternatives as SCHIP Markup Nears

With high hopes of a comprehensive and forward-moving reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), CWLA has joined other advocates in urging Congress to consider a range of funding alternatives as both chambers head to markup. In its budget resolution, Congress pledged up to $50 billion over five years in additional funding for SCHIP, but the current pay-as-you-go environment is making that extremely challenging. CWLA previously joined more than 60 organizations urging leaders in the House and Senate to consider raising the federal tobacco tax by at least 61 cents per pack. In addition to hopefully reducing smoking and promoting public health, it is estimated that such an increase would yield approximately $35 billion over five years--revenue that could be funneled towards reauthorization and expansion of SCHIP. A recent survey by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids revealed that 67% of those polled favor increasing the tobacco tax by as much as 75 cents per pack to help fund SCHIP.

CWLA has also joined a diverse group of health care providers, consumers, and children's and seniors' advocates in asking Congress to consider redirecting private Medicare Advantage overpayments to improving children's health coverage, the Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), and the Part D low-income subsidy for prescription drugs. MedPAC, the independent entity that advises Congress on issues affecting Medicare, has reported that, on average, private Medicare Advantage plans receive 12% more per beneficiary compared to the cost of providing care for that beneficiary in traditional Medicare. MedPAC advocates for financial neutrality between these payment rates, and CWLA is joining this suggestion, with the aim of improving health care for both children and seniors.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to markup SCHIP reauthorization legislation this week, with floor action sometime after the July 4 recess. The House is not expected to mark up SCHIP legislation until July, with floor action possibly occurring after the August recess.

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Teen Report Card Grades Adults Poorly on Governing and School Violence

Adults received a disappointing report card from the nation's youth, according to an annual report released on June 13. The ninth annual UCAN (Uhlich Children's Advantage Network) Teen Report Card gave the worst grade distributed in the survey, a "C-," to adults and their ability to run the government. The grades indicate concern from teens across the country about government actions, the political process, and adult voting patterns. In addition, teens continue to show concern when it comes to keeping schools safe from violence and crime and protecting kids from gun violence in general.

The Child Welfare League of America and UCAN of Chicago released the Teen Report Card on Adults. It is an annual survey of more than 1,000 American teens, ages 12 to 19, asking youth to give "A" through "F" grades to the adults impacting their lives, including parents, teachers, and politicians. The study evaluates the day-to-day performance of all adults in important areas like honesty, leadership, and safety and provides an outlet for teens to turn the tables and provide grades to the individuals who are traditionally grading them. "The report card grades along with the focus group discussions reveal how well teens are attuned to issues in their communities as well as nationally and internationally. They are concerned not only about their future, but the future of the country if things like health care and violence are not dealt with by the nation's leadership," said Linda Spears, CWLA's Acting Senior Vice President for Operations. Read the report card and learn more.

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Kaiser Family Foundation: Forum to Release National Survey of Parents on Children and Media

On June 19, the Kaiser Family Foundation held a forum to release the results of the National Survey of Parents on Children and Media. Panelists included Vicky Rideout, Vice President and Director of Kaiser's Program for the Study of Entertainment, Media, and Health; Mike Angus, J.D., General Counsel, Fox Interactive Media; Jim Dyke, Executive Director, TV Watch; Victor Strasburger, Program Chair, Council on Communications and Media, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Chief, Adolescent Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine; and Tim Winter, President, Parents Television Council.

The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed more than 1,000 parents of children ages 2 to 17 and conducted focus groups of parents from six cities across the country. The survey investigated issues such as media content, media ratings, the V-chip, media monitoring, educational media, advertising, the Internet, and the link between child obesity and the media.

The survey revealed that while parents believe they have acquired some sense of control over their own children's exposure to sex, violence, and profanity in the media, they continue to worry about inappropriate media content on a broader scale. The majority (65%) of parents say they "closely" monitor their children's media use and 73% of parents say they are cognizant of their children's online activities. At the same time, however, 65% of parents remain concerned that American children are exposed to too much sex, violence, and profanity in the media. Additionally, Africn American and Hispanic parents are more concerned than Caucasian parents about their children's exposure to inappropriate media content.

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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.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

June 30 to July 8: Congressional July 4 Break
August 6 to September 4: August Summer Break
October 1: 2008 Federal Fiscal Year Begins


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