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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 30: 8/6/2007   
Headlines

SCHIP Reauthorization Passes Both Houses; Negotiations Next

Loan Forgiveness in House Bill Supports Child Welfare and Child Care

HHS Appropriations Debate Will Wait Until September

GAO Report Highlights Significant Overrepresentation of African American Children in Foster Care

GAO Report Findings Emphasize Benefits of Kinship Care

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



SCHIP Reauthorization Passes Both Houses; Negotiations Next

With a month-long August recess approaching and the popular and successful State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) set to expire September 30, Congress focused its attention on reauthorizing the program in a timely and careful manner. Last week, both the House and Senate passed legislation to reauthorize CHIP and the Senate was also expected to clear its bill. CHIP, or SCHIP as it's currently called, provides health insurance to approximately six million low-income children, as well as some adults, and it has helped reduce the rate of uninsured low-income children by one-third since its inception.

On July 26, mark up began of the House reauthorization legislation, the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act (CHAMP/HR 3162). HR 3162 would provide $50 billion in additional funding over five years for CHIP and would also guarantee dental care and improve access to mental health services as a result of parity. Unfortunately, delay tactics quickly erupted in both the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, which share jurisdiction over the CHAMP Act, as Republicans refused to waive the reading of the bill, which exceeds 400 pages. Ways and Means approved the legislation by a party line vote of 24-17 around 2 a.m. Friday morning after defeating several potentially damaging amendments. In Energy and Commerce, Chair John Dingell (D-MI) used his authority to speed past the seemingly never-ending impasse and discharge the bill to the full House.

After last-minute adjustments to ensure that the CHAMP Act is in full compliance with pay-as-you-go budget rules, the House began debating the bill under a closed rule that limited debate to two hours. Republicans offered a motion to recommit that would have erased existing provisions and replaced them with only a one-year extension of CHIP, but that failed; final approval came moments later, with the House passing the CHAMP Act by a vote of 225-204.

The Senate also debated its CHIP reauthorization legislation. The Senate bill (S 1893) passed out of the Finance Committee by a vote of 17-4. It would offer less funding than the House bill--an additional $35 billion over five years--but has been ushered through thus far in a strong bipartisan manner and is seen by some as the more realistic measure. At press time, some restrictive amendments had already been offered but failed. A substitute strongly backed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) that would have only offered $9.5 billion in additional funding over five years, for instance, went down by 35-61. By Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to the Senate bill by a vote of 68 to 31. This vote is large enough that, if held, Senators would override a presidential veto.

President Bush has explicitly and implicitly threatened to veto both the Senate and House versions numerous times. A Statement of Administration Policy issued July 30 stated that, amongst other pronouncements, the Senate bill "goes too far in federalizing health care" and that the President would veto it if presented to him in its current form. The statement also urges that the Administration is "committed to making sure poor children have health insurance," but recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) indicate the President's preferred tax deduction health reform proposal would reduce the number of uninsured children by less than 500,000. On the other hand, CBO estimates the CHAMP Act that just passed the House would provide coverage to approximately five million children who otherwise who go uninsured; the Senate CHIP reauthorization bill would provide coverage to approximately four million who otherwise would go uninsured.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has indicated he wants a meeting with the White House to convince the President not to veto the bill. Ultimately it may depend on a final negotiated agreement between the House and Senate. The House bill also includes some significant changes and expansions to Medicare coverage, a repeal of scheduled cuts to physicians payments, and a cut in the Medicare advantage program, which subsidizes some private insurance based Medicare programs. It will be a busy August break for some members.

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Loan Forgiveness in House Bill Supports Child Welfare and Child Care

Congressional staff are expected to work during the August break to resolve differences over a higher education student loan bill, which includes language on loan forgiveness for child welfare workers. Both the House version (College Cost Reduction Act of 2007/HR 2669) and the Senate version (Higher Education Access Act of 2007/Senate Substitute for HR 2669) passed in July. A final bill will be considered under reconciliation rules whereby debate is limited and the legislation cannot be filibustered.

One area of difference is the loan forgiveness section. Both bills provide long-term loan forgiveness for public services employees, including child welfare workers. The definitions between the bills for "public service" vary but generally cover a list that includes public education, public health, law enforcement, legal services, and "public child and family service agencies." The House language provides loan forgiveness of $1,000 a year up to $5,000 (five years) if a person works in one of eight areas of national need as well as the current national service program. The Senate provision provides loan forgiveness after an individual has been employed in child welfare for 10 years.

One area defined as public need are child welfare workers who receive a degree in social work or a related field and are employed in either public or private child welfare services. The other areas of national need are child care and Head Start teachers, nurses, foreign language specialists, librarians within certain fields, bilingual teachers in certain areas of the country, speech pathologists working with students in preschool through grade 12, and certain public sector employees. Loan forgiveness for child welfare workers and child care workers has been a long-time priority of CWLA. The CWLA legislative agenda chapter on child welfare workforce outlines the need for loan forgiveness as one of the tools that could help address the current workforce shortage.

CWLA has sent a letter to conferees from both houses asking that they keep the House language on five years in any final agreement.

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HHS Appropriations Debate Will Wait Until September

At press time the House was attempting to finish the last two FY 2008 appropriations bills before the August break, which would bring the total to 12. Technically, the House is required to act first on appropriations legislation; the bills for the Agriculture Department (HR 3161) and the Defense Department, still in draft form at press time, were the last bills to be addressed by the House. The Senate has approved Homeland Security (S 1644), the Appropriations Committee has adopted 10, and the Defense bill was still awaiting committee action.

That will make the month of September heavily focused on appropriations. So far the President has threatened vetoes on at least eight bills: Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS, State-Foreign Operations, and Transportation-HUD.

The Administration veto threat to the House-passed version of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS bill (HR 3943) outlines specific spending decisions that are the basis for such a veto and includes the decision not to cut the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). The President's budget calls for a reduction of $500 million in SSBG funding, reducing funding 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.

It appears likely that Congress will have to pass some form of a continuing resolution before the start of the fiscal year on October 1 or several bills will have to be rolled into one large omnibus bill. For more information on funding for critical children's services, visit our website.

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GAO Report Highlights Significant Overrepresentation of African American Children in Foster Care

At the request of the House Ways and Means Chair, Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report, "African American Children in Foster Care: Additional HHS Assistance Needed to Help States Reduce the Proportion in Care." The report comes approximately two years after Representative Rangel requested information about the disproportionate representation of African American children in the child welfare system from Congressional Research Services.

The new report analyzes the major factors that have been identified as influencing the proportion of African American children entering and remaining in foster care compared to children of other races and ethnicities. It also discusses the extent that states and localities have implemented strategies that appear promising in addressing African American representation in foster care and the ways in which key federal child welfare policies may have influenced African American representation in foster care.

The analysis found that at the end of FY 2004, African American children made up 15% of the child population, 27% of the children who enter foster care, and 34% of those who remain in care. GAO found that several factors contribute to the over-representation of African American children entering and remaining in care. These factors include a higher rate of poverty; bias or cultural misunderstandings and distrust between child welfare decision makers and the families they serve; difficulty recruiting adoptive parents; and a greater reliance on relatives who may provide foster care but are unwilling to terminate parental rights.

Based on their findings, the report makes recommendations both to Congress and to HHS. One recommendation is for Congress to consider amending current law to permit subsidized guardianship. According to GAO, allowing such subsidies could help increase the number of permanent homes available for African American children in foster care. A recommendation to HHS is to further assist states in addressing disproportionality.

HHS made comments to both sets of recommendations. Regarding the former recommendation, HHS believes its proposal for restructuring child welfare funding would give states the option to provide subsidized guardianships, but the viability of the proposal is uncertain. The specific funding approach that HHS is referring to is a flexible capped grant called the Child Welfare Program Option. In reference to the latter recommendation, HHS identified that GAO's recommendation was consistent with its efforts to provide technical assistance to states, but did not address the specific actions GAO recommended.

CWLA commends both Representative Rangel and Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) for their leadership on this issue. CWLA released a press statement on this topic on July 31. Access CWLA's press statement. Access the full GAO report.

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GAO Report Findings Emphasize Benefits of Kinship Care

In the newly released GAO report, "African American Children in Foster Care: Additional HHS Assistance Needed to Help States Reduce the Proportion in Care," subsidized legal guardianship is cited as a means to reduce disproportionality by increasing the number of permanent homes available for African American children, as well as other children in foster care. According to the GAO, most states surveyed reported using strategies like involving families in decisions, building community supports, and broadening the search for relatives to care for children.

States expressed concerns about the inability to use federal child welfare funds to provide subsidies to legal guardians. The Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S 661/ HR 2188) addresses this concern. The act would allow states to use foster care and adoption funds for subsidized guardianship, establish a kinship navigator program, establish separate licensing standards for relative and nonrelative foster care parents, and require 60-day notification of relatives of the child in custody, among other provisions. The bipartisan kinship 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 House bill has 13 cosponsors, including Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and Tim Johnson (R-IL), who introduced the bill. As of July 25, the additional cosponsors on the House bill are Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jose Serrano (D-NY), and Pete Fortney Stark (D-CA).

The GAO report notes that adoption may not be a viable option--particularly for African American children in foster care--because it requires a termination of parental rights, which many African American families may not agree with. Kinship or subsidized guardianship can be seen as a way to keep the family together without terminating parental rights. The GAO study further reports that although subsidized guardianship is associated with longer lengths of stay in foster care, it can be less traumatic for children and reduce the number of placements and chance of their reentry into foster care.

CWLA views this GAO report as evidence that supports the practice of subsidized guardianship or kinship care. CWLA looks forward to more Congressional activity on the two Kinship bills.

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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 - September 4: August Summer Break
  • September 24 - 26: CWLA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference
  • September 30: SCHIP Reauthorization Expires
  • October 1: 2008 Federal Fiscal Year Begins


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