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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 40: 10/22/2007   
Headlines

House Falls Short of Veto Override; Back to the CHIP Drawing Board

Mental Health Parity Bill Takes Next Step Forward

Youth PROMISE Act Introduced

Susan Orr Takes New Position

Senate Completes Debate on Human Services

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Falls Short of Veto Override; Back to the CHIP Drawing Board

After arduously campaigning to override the President's veto of legislation to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP, H.R. 976), the House fell 13 votes short of the number necessary on October 18.

Serving as Medicaid's essential companion, CHIP programs exist in every state and provide much-needed coverage to children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage. Congress passed a bipartisan, compromise bill that not only would have maintained coverage for the 6 million children currently enrolled, but also would have encompassed close to 4 million children who otherwise would go without health insurance--most of whom are already eligible for either CHIP or Medicaid. The bill also included a six-month moratorium on a proposed regulation that would severely restrict access to Medicaid rehabilitative services, and offered mental health parity and guaranteed dental benefits.

The President, unfortunately, permitted extraneous concerns to guide his decision in vetoing the bill; with the House unable to override his veto, it is back to the drawing board. The President has indicated a willingness to spend more than his original $5 billion additional proposal, but many members of Congress refuse to budge any more--especially considering their compromise package of $35 billion additional over five years is already far below the House's initial $47 billion additional bill. Beyond changing the dollar amount, other provisions of the bill may become the target of change to win over members still on the fence.

In the meantime, state CHIP programs are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. CHIP officially expired September 30, but funding was provided in a stop-gap spending bill to continue state-run CHIP programs at current levels through November 16. Temporary flat-level funding, however, will simply not do the job. Without a complete reauthorization of CHIP, state CHIP programs fear they may be forced to implement enrollment caps or even cut children from the rolls.

The CHIP debate has become much more contentious than expected. CWLA hopes that improving health care for our nation's children guides the remainder of the process so CHIP is reauthorized in the near future.

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Mental Health Parity Bill Takes Next Step Forward

On October 16, the full House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (H.R. 1424). The vote was 32-13. The bill has now passed three committees with jurisdiction (Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce), and the next step is a debate and vote on the House floor.

Similar to its Senate companion (S. 558), H.R. 1424 would erase longstanding 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. The entire Senate passed its mental health parity bill by unanimous consent on September 18, after an amendment that permits stronger state mental health laws to stand. The House bill, too, acts as a floor, preempting only existing state mental health parity laws that are lower than the federal law.

The bills have come closer together in terms of substance, but differences do still exist. The House bill, for example, uses the encompassing definition of illness contained in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), whereas the Senate bill would leave it up to employers and insurers to negotiate covered conditions. House Republicans have repeatedly tried to substitute the Senate's language on this and other issues, but have failed.

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Youth PROMISE Act Introduced

On October 16, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Youth PROMISE Act, H.R. 3846, legislation that would reduce crime and gang involvement through prevention and intervention. This bill represents a major improvement over other leading crime bills that emphasize prosecution and incarceration strategies. The Youth PROMISE Act provides grants to communities to assess their own needs and implement effective evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies targeted at young people who are at risk of becoming involved, or already are involved, in gangs or the criminal justice system, to redirect them toward productive, law-abiding alternatives.

The legislation establishes local PROMISE Coordinating Councils to conduct objective assessments regarding juvenile delinquency and criminal street crime. Based on these assessments, the councils will develop plans to address local needs, and apply for federal funds, on the basis of the greatest need, to implement their plans. The councils will use approaches that shown to be effective in reducing involvement in, or continuing involvement in, delinquent conduct or criminal street gang activity.

H.R 3846 also provides for hiring and training Youth Oriented Police officers specializing in delinquency prevention and youth crime reduction.

When the legislation will be considered in the House is not clear. Scott chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, which could consider the bill relatively soon.

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Susan Orr Takes New Position

Last week, the Administration announced that Susan Orr, Associate Commissioner for the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, would be taking a new position as the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs. Orr has headed up the Children's Bureau since the start of the Bush Administration in 2001. Before joining the Bush Administration, she was senior director for marriage and family care at the Family Research Council and director of the Center for Social Policy at the Reason Public Policy Institute. Orr previously served at the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families 1992-1998 as a special assistant to the commissioner and a child welfare program specialist at the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.

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Senate Completes Debate on Human Services

At press time, the Senate was still debating the appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS). Few changes were expected, but one was made when Senate leaders dropped a stem cell research provision the President opposed. It is hoped that the compromise will allow the President to back away from a previous veto threat. The bill could be one of the first appropriations bills sent to the White House, but a clear strategy on which bills will go to the President is still not apparent.

The Senate Labor-HHS bill (S. 1710) provides a 3% increase over FY 2007, at $149 billion in overall discretionary funding, which is 6% more than the President's budget request. The Senate numbers, however, are slightly lower than the House bill, which would spend $1.9 billion more than the Senate version. The Senate bill puts less into some education programs than does 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 bill does. 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 it provides no increase in child care funding. The Senate bill 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.

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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

  • October 26: House target adjournment date
  • November 16: Senate target adjournment date
  • November 16: Continuing resolution to fund the government runs out
  • November 16: Temporary extension of SCHIP expires


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