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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 31: 8/13/2007   
Headlines

Second Chance Act Passes Senate Committee

Punitive Gangs Bill Stopped from Passage

A Thin Line to Walk During SCHIP Conference Negotiations

Special Preemption Rules Deleted from Senate Parity Bill

Representative Weller Introduces Bill to Measure Poverty

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Second Chance Act Passes Senate Committee

On August 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Second Chance Act (S 1060). This legislation, supported by CWLA, would give a second chance to adults and juveniles reentering society after incarceration and addresses the challenges faced by children and families impacted by incarceration. The Second Chance Act is a significant step forward in reducing recidivism, increasing public safety, and helping states and communities better address the growing population of ex-offenders returning to communities.

The Second Chance Act provides resources to be used for a variety of family strengthening programs such as maintaining family relationships when a parent is incarcerated, identifying barriers to collaborating with child welfare agencies in providing services, collecting information regarding dependent children of incarcerated parents, and developing programs that support parent-child relationships.

The House version, HR 1593, passed the House Judiciary Committee in March. It's not clear when the full Senate and House will consider the legislation.

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Punitive Gangs Bill Stopped from Passage

On August 3, an attempt was made to pass a punitive gangs bill, the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act (S 456), by adopting a unanimous consent motion, which would have prohibited any debate or votes on amendments. The effort was stopped when objections were raised.

This legislation is heavily slanted toward a federal law enforcement approach to reduce gang violence emphasizing incarceration and longer sentences for convictions and lacks focus on prevention and early intervention. The punitive provisions in the bill would apply to youth and potentially would result in many more young people being incarcerated in adult prisons and jails. Youth would also be subject to the lengthier sentences called for in the legislation.

Research indicates prevention and early intervention are effective in reducing gang and youth violence, while incarcerating gang members has been found to be counterproductive. A new report, "Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies," released on July 18, compared the two approaches and found no evidence that gang suppression and enforcement strategies have achieved meaningful reductions in violence, but found ample proof that science-based social service interventions can curb delinquency. The report is available online.

It is unclear when the Senate will consider the bill again. It is expected a new bill, focused on prevention and early intervention, will be introduced in the House soon after Labor Day.

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A Thin Line to Walk During SCHIP Conference Negotiations

Right before members set out for their month-long August recess, both chambers of Congress passed legislation that would reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Serving as Medicaid's essential companion, CHIP currently provides health insurance to over 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. Negotiations to arrive at a compromise between the Senate and House versions of the legislation may prove difficult, due to the fairly extensive differences detailed below.

The House bill, the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act (HR 3162/CHAMP Act), passed by a vote of 225-204 and would reauthorize CHIP with increased funding close to $50 billion over five years, paid for by a 45-cent per pack increase in the federal tobacco tax and a phase-out of overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that such a reauthorization would ensure coverage for almost five million children who otherwise would go uninsured--including 600,000 who are already eligible for CHIP, 2.9 million who are already eligible for Medicaid, 800,000 currently enrolled who may lose coverage if the status quo remained, and 600,000 who would gain eligibility due to new rules and flexibilities. Of particular note for the child welfare community is Section 814 of the CHAMP Act, which would place a one-year moratorium on any regulation, regulatory guidance, use of federal payment audit procedures, or other administrative action that restricts coverage or payment of Medicaid rehabilitative services in any way. Many states choose to implement Medicaid rehabilitative services to help reduce physical or mental disabilities of children in foster care.

The CHAMP Act would also grant states the option of implementing a quicker process for eligibility and covering legal immigrant children and pregnant women who have been in the country for less than five years (currently, this population is excluded from coverage). Performance bonuses would be available to states that adopt a certain number of enumerated best practices when enrolling eligible children. Access to mental health services would be increased as a result of parity in CHIP programs and dental care would be a guaranteed benefit.

The Senate passed its CHIP reauthorization bill with a veto-proof majority of 68-31. It would provide an additional $35 billion over five years for CHIP, paid for by a 61-cent per pack increase in the federal tobacco tax. CBO estimates that the Senate's version of CHIP reauthorization would ensure coverage for four million children who otherwise would go uninsured--including 900,000 who are already eligible for CHIP, 1.7 million who are already eligible for Medicaid, 800,000 currently enrolled who may lose coverage if the status quo remained, and 600,000 who would gain eligibility due to new rules and flexibilities. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version does not include a moratorium on restrictive administrative action or regulation on the Medicaid rehabilitative services option and would not grant states the option to cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women who have been in the country for less than five years. Dental benefits are also arguably weaker, with the Senate bill providing grants rather than guaranteed services. Mental health parity is included in the Senate version, as well as a state option to simplify citizenship documentation requirements.

In addition to working out these differences, another major decision to be dealt with during conference is how much additional funding to put towards CHIP and how to pay for it. Many want to cover as many eligible children as possible, but Senate Minority Leader Trent Loll (R-MS) has already warned that if the conference report goes "one iota beyond" the Senate's $35 billion figure, Republicans will withdraw their support. It is also unknown whether conferees will take up the changes to Medicare, as presented in the House CHAMP Act, or deal with them at a later date. It is an extremely thin line to walk, especially considering President Bush's repeated threats to veto the reauthorization legislation as it stands now and the time crunch Congress is in due to CHIP's set expiration date of September 30.

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Special Preemption Rules Deleted from Senate Parity Bill

Significant concessions regarding mental health parity were made just before Congress adjourned for August. This came after months of attempting to carefully craft preemption provisions that were feasible and acceptable to all negotiating parties including employer and insurance industry organizations. Previously, the Senate's Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S 558) would have preempted provisions of more aggressive state laws in a few circumstances, but under the latest compromise, the special preemption rule has been deleted. S 558 would therefore act as a floor, preempting only existing state mental health parity laws that are lower than the federal law, while permitting state mental health parity laws that are stronger and more protective of consumer rights to stand.

While differences between the House parity bill, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (HR 1424), and S 558 still exist, this action brings them much closer together. Both bills would erase discriminatory limitations by requiring group health plans with 50 or more enrollees who choose to offer mental health benefits to provide them on the same terms as other medical conditions. On August 3, members of the Senate attempted to "hotline," or quickly consider, S 558, which is ripe with bipartisan support and easily passed out of the Senate HELP Committee on February 14 with a vote of 18-3. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), however, placed a hold on the bill, indicating that his action was not to completely stop it, but rather to slow things down and provide more time for debate. It is expected that the full Senate will consider the bill when they return in September.

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Representative Weller Introduces Bill to Measure Poverty

Representative Jerry Weller (R-IL) introduced the Poverty Measurement Improvement Act (HR 3243). Representative David Camp (R-MI) is a cosponsor. Both are members of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family support, which has jurisdiction over most child welfare programs.

The legislation directs the Census Bureau to publish a different annual measure of family income to determine the extent of poverty in the United States and the anti-poverty effectiveness of means-tested benefits and tax programs. The new standards would be based on at least three components. First, the measure would take into account the full benefits of poverty income and noncash benefits, such as food stamps, housing subsidies, and the actuarial of health coverage. Second, the measure would take into account state and federal tax benefits, such as earned income tax credit and refundable child credits. Third, it would include state and federal income and payroll taxes, attributable to the members of the household involved, including nonrelated members.

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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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