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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 29: 7/30/2007   
Headlines

SCHIP Legislation Introduced in the House; Senate Ready for Floor Debate

President Calls for Cuts to SSBG in Labor-HHS Bill; Override Could Be Close

Annie E. Casey's Kids Count Puts Child Welfare in Focus

Kinship Bill Picks Up Speed in Senate

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



SCHIP Legislation Introduced in the House; Senate Ready for Floor Debate

Representative John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act (CHAMP, HR 3162), which would extend and improve the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) as well as enhance certain beneficiary protections under Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP. HR 3162 would provide an estimated $50 billion increase in SCHIP funding over five years, which echoes Congress's pledge in its budget resolution and could cover up to five million children who otherwise would remain uninsured. The growth of the program would mainly be paid for by a 45-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax and a phaseout of overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans.

CHAMP, for the most part, would maintain current eligibility rules for SCHIP but would also grant states the option to cover pregnant women, legal immigrant children and pregnant women, and older children up to age 24. The bill would also greatly strengthen the SCHIP benefit package for children by guaranteeing both dental care and mental health parity. States that successfully reach eligible but unenrolled children by implementing at least four of six enumerated "best practices," such as presumptive eligibility or a joint SCHIP/Medicaid application, would receive performance bonuses. In addition, CHAMP would establish an inclusive pediatric health quality program within HHS, as well as an independent commission that would monitor children's access to care and services.

At press time, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was debating and voting on major portions of the legislation, and the House Ways and Means Committee was set to take action on sections that dealt with offsetting some of the increased costs of the proposal. The previous week, the Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize SCHIP with an additional $35 billion over five years by a vote of 17-4. The Senate is expected to debate their as yet unnumbered bill this week before beginning the August break.

The White House and some Republicans in both chambers have voiced strong opposition to the Senate and House reauthorizing legislation, accusing proponents of trying to move toward government-run health care. In response, House Republicans have offered a substitute bill that provides a much smaller stream of money for the program and, in most instances, limits eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level.

President Bush has criticized congressional proposals for reauthorization and last week he expressed opposition to the Senate bill, tagging the package as "government-run health care" and disapproving of the federal tobacco tax increase as the way to pay for the expansion. He has threatened to veto the bill if it is placed on his desk in its current form. Both Republican and Democratic members have urged President Bush to rethink that position. Senators Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), for example, issued a joint statement that it is "disappointing, even a little unbelievable, to hear Administration officials wanting a veto of a legislative proposal they haven't even seen yet." In a letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) similarly called on the administration to "stop blocking the way and join with Congress in extending this important program."

SCHIP was originally enacted as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and currently covers approximately six million low-income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage, as well as some lower-income adults. Each state has SCHIP and the program has been widely hailed as a success, having helped reduce the rate of uninsured low-income children by one-third. A breakout of current state-by-state allocations and coverage is available onlline .

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President Calls for Cuts to SSBG in Labor-HHS Bill; Override Could Be Close

The Administration has issued a veto threat to the House-passed version of FY 2008 appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS/HR 3043). The Administration issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on July 17, which said the President would veto the House-passed bill. The SAP then outlined specific spending decisions that are the basis for such a veto.

According to the SAP, one reason for the veto is that the legislation does not cut the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). Stating "SSBG and CSBG duplicate other federal social service programs that are better able to demonstrate results," the Administration urged the House to reduce these programs. The President's budget calls for a reduction of $500 million in SSBG funding. Such an action would lower it from $1.7 billion to $1.2 billion. SSBG provides approximately 11% of total federal spending on child welfare services with many states allocating even more. SSBG is the biggest source of federal funding support to child protective services and provides funding to a range of child welfare services including adoption, foster care, independent living services, and other child welfare programs. The House bill was approved on July 19 by a vote of 276 to 140. If the entire House membership (435 members) were present and voting, 145 members would have to vote to sustain a presidential veto, meaning the President would need votes from five more members of the House than had voted against it on July 19.

The House bill allocates $151 billion in discretionary spending, an increase of 4.6% from the FY 2007 total of $144 billion. The biggest increases--more than 7%--were in education funding and some health funding. If Congress followed the President's budget request, it would result in actual cuts from the 2007 spending levels in addition to any impact inflation would have. For more information on funding for critical children's services, visit the budget chart.

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Annie E. Casey's Kids Count Puts Child Welfare in Focus

The Annie E. Casey foundation released its annual Kids Count report during a Capitol Hill briefing on July 25. The state-by-state data report indicated there were four areas of improvement nationally in the areas of child death rates, teen birth rates, high school dropout rates, and teens not in school and not working. Two areas showed modest improvements in infant mortality and teen death rates. Four areas showed worsening outcomes: low-birthweight babies, children living in families where no parent has full-time year-round work, children living in poverty, and children in single-parent families. The report is available at www.kidscount.org.

As part of this year's Kids Count report, the foundation is focusing on the need for improvements in the child welfare field. Doug Nelson, President of Annie E. Casey Foundation, called for policies that provide greater focus on prevention and family support policies for families at risk or in crisis; the need for a greater effort at permanency for all children, including greater efforts at reunification, adoption supports, and greater reliance on kinship placements; greater resources, including funding for subsidized guardianships; a change in the decision-making process that will focus more on team decision making and the need to focus greater attention on the issues of the over-representation of children of color in the child welfare system; and the need to focus more attention on older youth still in the system.

The briefing included presentations by Nadege Mardy Breeden, a youth who had been a foster child; Sandra Jimenez, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation; James McCafferty, Director of Children and Family Services, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Nick Gwyn, Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support of the House Ways and Means Committee; and Livia Lam, Legislative Assistant for Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

The discussion focused on the need for finance reform, greater support for efforts aimed at permanency, and broader use of kinship care and guardianships. Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and David Camp (R-MI) and Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) sponsored the event. Representative Davis opened the event and talked about his kinship care legislation (HR 2188). Senator Snowe, briefing sponsor, is also sponsoring a kinship bill (S 661).

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Kinship Bill Picks Up Speed in Senate

The Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S 661) picked up several key sponsors in the past week. The bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Thad Cochran (R-MS) now has a total of 17 cosponsors. The most recent additions were Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who all became cosponsors on July 24. Six of the cosponsors are on the important Senate Finance Committee, including Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), in addition to Snowe, Stabenow, and Cantwell. The House bill, HR 2188, now has seven cosponsors, including Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and Tim Johnson (R-IL), the lead bipartisan cosponsors.

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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

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


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