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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 27: 7/16/2007   
Headlines

Loan Forgiveness for Child Welfare Social Workers in House Higher Education Bill

Senate Finance Says $35 Billion More for SCHIP

President Names Wade Horn 's Replacement

Subcommittee Focuses on Youth That Age Out

Hearing Held on Juvenile Justice

Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill Moves Forward

House Grants Three-Month Extension for Temporary Medicaid Program; Abstinence Education May Be Dealt with Through SCHIP

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Loan Forgiveness for Child Welfare Social Workers in House Higher Education Bill

On July 11 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HR 2669) that includes a provision that would allow for student loan forgiveness to licensed social workers in the child welfare field for public or private agencies. The forgiveness would allow for up $1,000 per year for up to five years or $5,000. The loan forgiveness provisions actually cover several areas of "national need." The definition of national need extends to seven other categories in addition to child welfare workers and includes child care workers, Head Start and other categories of teachers, and nurses.

CWLA has been a longtime advocate for creating a loan forgiveness program for child welfare workers and it is part of the 2007 Legislative Agenda. There have been two big hurdles for the legislation: the Senate and the President. HR 2669 is tied up in controversy over the provisions in the House bill, which would shift some of the subsidies the federal government gives to private lenders and use those funds to lower the cost of student loans. The Higher Education bill will be passed under "reconciliation" instructions, which amount to protecting it from a filibuster in the U.S. Senate. That means it could pass by a simple majority and not take the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The Senate is working on their version of a bill, after which the House and Senate will have to meet in a conference committee to negotiate the differences.

The President has indicated he may veto the bill over a larger issue of how funds are shifted from lenders to students. The federal government backs up student loans, and because the financial guarantee was crafted several years ago, some lenders are receiving what critics view as a windfall from the government. The House and Senate bills seek to shave off some of the subsidy and use it to increase student loans. That seems to run counter to what the White House wants in the bill. This is the only bill this year that can be debated by Congress under reconciliation rules, which means it is highly likely it will be sent to the White House before the end of the year.

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Senate Finance Says $35 Billion More for SCHIP

The Senate Finance Committee has reached a tentative bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the State Children 's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a successful program that every state has chosen to implement a version of, covering at least 6 million low-income children nationwide. The committee 's package would provide $35 billion over five years in additional funding so that an additional 2 million eligible but unenrolled children could be reached. This represents a step forward, but not the promised leap of $50 billion that Congress had included in its budget resolution this year. The $35 billion in the Finance Committee 's tentative agreement is expected to be gathered over time from a corresponding 61-cent per pack raise in the federal tobacco tax. The Senate chose not to reduce overpayments to Medicare Advantage programs, a pay-for tactic that the House may still pursue.

Support within the Finance Committee seems strong, but the Administration has indicated that it is not happy with the direction SCHIP is taking. President Bush warned that he will "resist Congress ' attempt to federalize medicine." Bush 's FY 2008 budget proposal recommended only $5 billion in additional funding for SCHIP, and he has stated numerous times he desires its eligibility level to be set at 200% FPL or below--despite the fact that at least 18 states have already taken the initiative to allow children in families above 200% FPL into their programs. Bush would prefer covering uninsured children through tax deductions or credits so that families could purchase their own insurance, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has stated publicly that "turning to untested proposals, like the President 's tax provisions, could put these children at risk."

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to mark up its SCHIP reauthorization bill July 17. The House Energy and Commerce is just beginning formal work on reauthorization. Timing is of the essence, as the program is set to expire on September 30.

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President Names Wade Horn 's Replacement

On July 9 the Administration named Diane Rath as the new Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. Wade Horn, the previous secretary, stepped down earlier this year. Rath is currently the Chair for the Texas Workforce Commission. President Bush had appointed her to the three-member commission in September, 1996, and named her the Chair on June 2, 1998. The current governor reappointed her.

Before being appointed to the Workforce Commission, Rath was the Senior Director of Public Affairs for Kinetic Concepts Inc. Rath has also held several positions in the physical therapy field, and she received her Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The Administration for Children and Families is a key human service position for the Department of Health and Human Services. It has management and oversight responsibility over all federal child welfare programs through the Children's Bureau and also oversees other vital programs and services including the TANF block grant, the SSBG block grant, child care funding, Head Start, and community and other programs covering the elderly and disabled. The position requires Senate approval.

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Subcommittee Focuses on Youth That Age Out

On July 12 the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Supports held a hearing about transitioning out of foster care. Under the leadership of Chairman Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Ranking Member Representative Jerry Weller (R-IL), this hearing followed a series of hearings focusing on children, youth, and families. The subcommittee heard three series of panels. Panelists included Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-CA); former foster youth Tyler Bacon, Anthony Reeves, Nicole Dobbins, and Jamaal Nutall; Cornelia Ashby, Government Accountability Office; Mark Courtney, School of Social Work, University of Washington; Gary Stangler, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; Sam Cobbs, First Place Fund for Youth; and Jane Soltis, Eckerd Family Foundation.

In their opening statements, both the chairman and ranking member acknowledged there is currently no data collection or evaluation tool in place to determine the effectiveness of services for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Representative McDermott agreed that HHS is at least partly to blame for our limited understanding in this area. Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) acknowledged that there is a cost if we do not invest in youth now.

In his presentation to the subcommittee, Representative Cardoza identified his personal interest in this issue. He and his wife have adopted two foster children. He spoke of the "trials, tribulations, and joys" of raising his additional family members. He added that accessing vital documents (for example, birth certificates and social security cards) is sometimes a barrier. In his testimony, Cardoza specified certain recommendations to cultivate a successful transition from foster care to adulthood. Such recommendations included streamlining the adoption process, ensuring all children in care have a Court Appointed Special Advocate, and extending Medicaid coverage for foster children up to age 21.

On the second panel, the youth panelists recommended extending foster care until age 21, providing health coverage until age 21, and making permanency a priority for all youth. They demonstrated the need for such actions by sharing their own stories. Tyler Bacon, 22, explained that his mother and father abandoned him at age 13. When he turned 18, Tyler was told that he was an adult and aged out of the system. He spoke of his failed attempt to reconnect with his biological family, eviction, financial hardship, and success as he connected with a network of former foster youth.

Anthony Reeves, now 23, was placed in care at age 12. During his time in foster care, he and his younger brother lost contact for four years. This was the same brother for whom Anthony played the role of a father figure at the age of 5. It was not until his social worker, who is now his mentor and father figure, came into his life that he was able to locate his younger brother. With the support of his mentor, Anthony was motivated to attend and complete college.

Twenty-four-year-old Nicole Dobbins entered foster care at age 2. She was reunited with her biological family only to reenter the system again at age 14. At age 18, she was taken out of her foster home with no warning. Although she attended college, the state played little role in her transition. She mentioned that her involvement in FosterClub and the National Foster Care Coalition cultivated her interests in making vital changes in the child welfare system.

A fourth youth panelist, Jamaal Nutall, described his mother 's plight with postpartum depression and her inability to care for him. After time in his grandmother 's home and nonrelative foster placement, his aunt became his legal guardian. Throughout the various changes, Jamaal meddled in "street life." Nevertheless, it was the connection with his aunt that shaped his outlook on furthering his education and athletics.

CWLA provided testimony for the hearing, which can be viewed on our website.

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Hearing Held on Juvenile Justice

A hearing was held July 12 on the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). This legislation governs the federal involvement in juvenile justice activities around the country and is the main source of federal funding for delinquency prevention and assisting states and localities in the operation of their juvenile justice systems. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002. Many members of Congress present at the hearing expressed support for major improvements in the law, such as provisions to stop incarcerating youth with adults, reducing racial and ethnic disparities, ending the practice of detaining status offenders, and substantially increasing funds for prevention.

The House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities, chaired by Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, chaired by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), did the hearing jointly. Legislation is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.

Copies of the testimony provided at the hearing can be obtained at www.act4jj.org. The site also contains other information about reauthorizing the JJDPA.

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Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill Moves Forward

The House is now set to debate an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor-Health and Human Services and Education. The full Appropriations Committee adopted the as-yet unnumbered bill on July 11. The House is expected to debate the legislation sometime this week. The bill allocates $151 billion in discretionary spending, an increase of 4.6% from the FY 2007 total of $144 billion. The biggest increases of more than 7% were in education funding and some health funding. Both Head Start and child care funding received increases of $75 million. That put child care at $2.13 billion in discretionary funding compared to $2.06 billion in 2007 and Head Start at $6.96 billion compared to $6.88 billion in 2007. Discretionary funding for Promoting Safe and Stable Families remained at $89 million, the same level as 2007, and funding for CAPTA state grants stayed at $27 million and at $42 million for the community-based prevention grants, also the same as 2007. Discretionary grants did increase by $10 million to $35 million. These grants are awarded in a competitive process or are sometimes allocated by earmark. The $10 million increase is expected to be used to promote the use of home visiting programs.

The Senate bill (S 1710) provides a 3% increase over current FY 2007 at $149 billion in overall discretionary funding, which also equates to 6% more than the President 's budget request. The Senate numbers are slightly lower than the House bill, which spends $1.9 billion more than the Senate version. 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 bill provides a $200 million increase for Head Start, more than the House version, but provides no increase in child care funding. The Senate also allocates an additional $12 million in discretionary grants under CAPTA but it more narrowly targets the use of $10 million for Nurse Family Practitioner home visiting programs. The President has indicated he may veto the bill due to its funding levels. If Congress followed the President's budget request, it would result in actual cuts from the 2007 spending levels.

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House Grants Three-Month Extension for Temporary Medicaid Program; Abstinence Education May Be Dealt with Through SCHIP

Having already passed the Senate on June 27 by voice vote, the House approved a bill (S 1701) that extends the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program for three months past its original expiration date of June 30. Two million Americans rely on TMA for Medicaid coverage as they transition from welfare to the working world. The bill recommends the much-needed extension to be paid for by no longer permitting Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans that lack prescription drug coverage and by decreasing funding for the Medicare Advantage Stabilization Fund.

The bill also keeps in place a $50 million per year grant program for abstinence education until September 30. Some Democrats, who would like these funds to be phased out, have indicated that now they will attempt to address permanent reforms in the abstinence program when the House takes up reauthorization of SCHIP.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

  • August 6 - September 4 -- August Summer Break
  • September 30 -- SCHIP Reauthorization Expires
  • October 1 -- 2008 Federal Fiscal Year Begins


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