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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 45: 11/19/2007   
Headlines

Head Start Reauthorization Passes Congress

President Signs One Spending Bill, Vetoes Another

Sign Up to Support White House Conference on Children and Families

CHIP May Be Set Aside Until After Thanksgiving

Expanded Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers Included in House Higher Ed Bill

House Passes Second Chance Act

House Subcommittee Looks at Gaps in Health Coverage

Correction: Bill to De-link AFDC from Adoption Assistance

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Head Start Reauthorization Passes Congress

On November 13, Congress approved the "Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, a bill to reauthorize the Head Start program. The House voted for the final bill by a margin of 381-36; the Senate followed later that day in a 95-0 vote. President Bush is expected to sign the bill; this is the first time Head Start has been reauthorized since 1998.

Reauthorization of Head Start has been a part of CWLA's legislative agenda for several years. In a letter to Congressional leaders, CWLA President/CEO Christine James-Brown said, "Under the reauthorization, Head Start will continue to function not just as a child care and education program, but also as a comprehensive effort to promote child development." That very issue had been at the heart of much of the Head Start debate in earlier Congresses.

Although the program had expired in 2003, it had continued through the annual appropriations process. Since 2003, Congress has considered and rejected previous Administration proposals to convert Head Start into a block grant or to block-grant pilot projects, move the program from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Education, and test Head Start children, referred to as the National Reporting System.

Both houses of Congress agreed to set a national target of 50% of Head Start teachers having bachelor's degrees by 2013 and to provide some limited expansion of Head Start eligibility to families up to 130% of poverty under certain conditions. The bill authorizes funding of $7.35 billion in FY 2008, but the Labor-HHS appropriations bill the President vetoed earlier in the week provided just $7 billion for Head Start, which signals a real challenge for Congress to reach the proposed totals.

Back to Headlines

President Signs One Spending Bill, Vetoes Another

Last week, President Bush vetoed the appropriations bill for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor (Labor-HHS), H.R. 3043, as he criticized Congress for spending too much. On Thursday, the House voted to override the bill but failed by a few votes.

The President said he vetoed the bill because it exceeded his budget request for these federal departments. The bill allocated more than $600 billion, which included Medicare, Medicaid. That $600 billion total included $150 billion in annually appropriated funds. The bill would have spent $6.2 billion more than 2007, and nearly $10 billion more than what the President asked for.

While criticizing the Labor-HHS bill, the President did sign the appropriations for the Defense Department. That bill, H.R. 3222, spends $459 billion in annually appropriated funds. The Defense bill, which does not include funding for the war, represents an increase of more than $40 billion over 2007 and is $3 billion less than the President's request.

When the President signed the Defense bill, he was also signing onto a second continuing resolution that will provide funding to run the federal government through December 14. In the interim, plans and negotiations will continue for an appropriations bill.

Back to Headlines

Sign Up to Support White House Conference on Children and Families

The CWLA campaign for a White House Conference on Children and Youth continues to build. View the website and sign on to support the campaign.

This White House Conference on Children and Youth would be the first since 1970. Almost four decades have passed without the White House bringing the focus of the nation to examine the state of our children. CWLA is calling on Congress to authorize this conference so that the next President will convene a conference in 2010. A White House conference on Children and Youth is necessary to focus attention on the children who, after all, are our responsibility. The conference will examine the greatest needs and set the country on a path to reform. The commitment of the President and the power of the White House is necessary to once again make vulnerable children a national priority and point the way to significant reform and improvements.

Back to Headlines

CHIP May Be Set Aside Until After Thanksgiving

Congress's latest compromise CHIP bill (H.R. 3963), which passed both chambers of Congress, unfortunately does yet not have enough votes to override the White House's threatened veto. A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers has been meeting frequently over the past couple of weeks to negotiate a new CHIP reauthorization that wins Republican support, while not conceding too much such that Democratic support would drop off. At press time, another critical juncture in CHIP's fate had been reached. Members of the House and Senate were exchanging potential "final deals" with each other. If agreement was not reached, CHIP would be temporarily set aside and taken up again after Congress's Thanksgiving recess.

As Medicaid's essential companion, CHIP programs exist in every state and provide much-needed coverage to low-income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage. CHIP expired September 30 and has since continued to operate at flat funding through continuing resolutions--the latest of which funds CHIP through December 14, giving Congress more time to secure a successful package.

President Bush vetoed Congress's first compromise bill to reauthorize CHIP (H.R. 976), and Congress fell short of overriding that veto by approximately 13 votes. The more recent CHIP bill (H.R. 3963) maintains several of its predecessor's policies, such as providing health insurance to approximately 10 million children, mental health parity. and guaranteed dental benefits, while also tweaking certain provisions to address voiced concerns.

Of particular importance to the child welfare and foster care communities, H.R. 3963 would stop a dangerous proposed Medicaid Rehabilitative Services regulation from being implemented until January 1, 2010. Medicaid Rehabilitative Services offer a realistic opportunity to, in the least restrictive setting possible, reduce physical or mental disabilities of children in care and restore them to optimal functioning level.

As previously reported, Twila Costigan from CWLA member agency Intermountain in Helena, Montana testified recently before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the real-world, negative impact of the proposed Rehabilitative Services regulation. Relevant pieces of that hearing may be viewed online.

Back to Headlines

Expanded Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers Included in House Higher Ed Bill

Last Wednesday and Thursday, the House Education and Labor Committee debated and approved a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, H.R. 4137, includes a loan forgiveness provision. Unlike an earlier bill, this provision would require an annual appropriation, but it provides a greater benefit to covered applicants than that earlier education bill. This bill would allow a person with a degree in social work or a related field, and who is employed by a public or private child welfare agency, to have part of his or her college loan forgiven. For each year of work, $2,000 would be forgiven, up to a maximum of $10,000 over five years.

The loan forgiveness covers 13 areas of national need, including qualified Head Start, child care and preschool teachers; some teachers in high-need fields; and some mental health professionals. The loan provisions would apply only after the law is passed, not for previous years worked, and would be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Before it becomes law, the bill must next be adopted by the full House and go to a Senate-House conference committee. The Senate passed its version of a Higher Education bill this summer, but it does not include loan forgiveness. If the bill were enacted, then the next step would be to get the necessary appropriations approved in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, an area the President has been trying to cut this year.

CWLA has long advocated loan forgiveness as an important tool to enhance and improve the child welfare workforce.

Back to Headlines

House Passes Second Chance Act

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Second Chance Act (H.R. 1593). This legislation would provide competitive grants to promote innovative programs to test a variety of methods aimed at reducing recidivism. Efforts would be focused on post-release housing, education and job training, family strengthening, substance abuse and mental health services, and mentoring programs.

The Second Chance Act would substantially increase the support to states and community organizations to address issues facing the children and families of those returning to their communities from incarceration. It would authorize new competitive grants for responsible parenting and healthy relationship skills training designed specifically to address the needs of incarcerated and transitioning parents. It would encourage family members of offenders to be involved in facilitating the successful reentry of those offenders into the community, including removing obstacles to maintaining family relationships while the offender is in custody, and strengthening the family's capacity to function as a stable living situation, where appropriate, during reentry.

The legislation would authorize grants to identify and address barriers to collaborating with child welfare agencies in providing services jointly to offenders in custody and to the children of such offenders; for carrying out programs that support children of incarcerated parents, including those in foster care and those cared for by grandparents or other relatives, including mentoring children of prisoners programs; and for carrying out programs, including mentoring, that support children of incarcerated parents, including those in foster care and those cared for by grandparents or other relatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed its version of the Second Chance Act in August, but when the full Senate will consider the bill remains unclear.

Back to Headlines

House Subcommittee Looks at Gaps in Health Coverage

Last Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, chaired by Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), continued its series of hearings related to foster care. This hearing examined the growing challenges that Americans, including vulnerable populations such as children in and aging out of foster care, face in securing quality, affordable health care, and the role the federal government can play in filling such voids.

McDermott opened the hearing by citing recent Census Bureau statistics that the number of Americans without health insurance rose from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million in 2006. The number of children under 18 without health insurance increased to 8.7 million in 2006, up 700,000 since 2005.

Sherena Johnson, a 22-year-old from Morrow, Georgia, who spent eight years in foster care, eloquently told her unfortunate, yet all too familiar, story. Having aged out of foster care at 18 with "limited to no resources" and no health insurance, Johnson, during her sophomore year of college, was diagnosed with a serious medical condition that, left untreated, could lead to infertility. Without health coverage, she was unable to afford yearly exams and instead, had to endure painful side effects that affected her school attendance and performance.

With little family support, Johnson turned to the Georgia Department of Human Resources for assistance, and together they were able to overcome several additional hurdles, including overcrowded health clinics and transportation barriers. Johnson finally received the treatment she so desperately needed, but she pleaded to the Subcommittee that Congress mandate that states exercise the Chafee option to extend Medicaid until age 21 for former foster youth transitioning into adulthood. Legislation introduced by Representative Dennis Cardoza, H.R. 1376, which CWLA strongly supports, would do just that.

Other panelists also addressed the health care coverage gaps that children involved with the child welfare system fall into. Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, discussed children with mental health care needs and suggested passing mental health parity laws and the Keeping Families Together Act (S. 382/H.R. 687) as well-tailored solutions. And because kinship is the "fastest growing form of placement for children in foster care" and "children living with relatives are...less likely to access health care," Lesley also pledged support for and urged passage of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 661/H.R. 2188).

Back to Headlines

Correction: Bill to De-link AFDC from Adoption Assistance

Last week, we reported that Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) introduced the Adoption Equality Act of 2007, H.R. 4091, but we had his party affiliation wrong. The bill, which CWLA has endorsed, would amend Part E of Title IV of the Social Security Act to promote the adoption of children with special needs. The proposal de-links the 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) income eligibility requirement from special-needs adoption.

Back to Headlines

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.

Subscribe to Legislative Alerts.

Subscribe to Children's Monitor.

Back to Headlines

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

  • November 16-December 3: Thanksgiving Break
  • December 14: New target adjournment date
    Continuing resolution to fund the government runs out


Back to Headlines

Click here to see the list of previous issues

If you know of others who would like their names added to this list, please have them visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/monitoronline-optin.htm. To remove yourself from this list, send an e-mail to monitor@cwla.org with "Remove from Monitor Online List" in the subject line.

© Child Welfare League of America. The content of this publication may not be reproduced in any way, including posting on the Internet, without the permission of CWLA. For permission to use material from CWLA's website or publications, contact us using our website assistance form.