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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 46: 12/3/2007   
Headlines

CWLA Calls on Presidential Candidates to Endorse Call for White House Conference

Congress Back for Pre-Holliday Work

CHIP Reaches Critical Juncture

Clinton Introduces Legislation to Help Foster Youth, Promote Adoptions

Thomas Foundation Releases Public Opinion Poll on Adoption

Appropriations Update

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



CWLA Calls on Presidential Candidates to Endorse Call for White House Conference

On November 27, CWLA President and CEO Christine James-Brown sent a letter to all presidential candidates calling on them to endorse a White House Conference on Children and Youth to be focused on child welfare. In the letter, Brown says CWLA "is offering all candidates for President both an opportunity and a challenge on behalf of our nation's most vulnerable children...an opportunity to focus on the issues of child abuse and neglect, and our nation's child welfare system. The challenge is for you and all the presidential candidates to support the conference and embrace the goal of improving outcomes for our most vulnerable children."

The letter--part of CWLA's call to restore the tradition of a decennial White House Conference on Children and Youth--goes on to say, "We are asking you to embrace the goals of improving outcomes for children, reducing child abuse and neglect, reducing the number of children who do not have permanent and lasting families, and to commit to convening a White House Conference to focus the nations' attention on these goals."

In keeping with the CWLA tradition of nonpartisanship the letter has been sent to all presidential candidates in the two major parties.

The letter is available online to be used as a sample for supporters wishing to send their own letters to candidates.

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Congress Back for Pre-Holliday Work

Congress returns from a brief Thanksgiving break this week. In addition to the debate over the war, Congress still faces the critical issues of annual appropriations, as well as reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP.)

The government is operating under its second continuing resolution, which is set to expire December 14. That's also the target date for the first session of the 110th Congress to adjourn, but some Capitol Hill observers are predicting members could be in until the week of Christmas. On appropriations, the President has been unwilling to compromise on human service spending but is willing to accept congressionally passed spending in the areas of the military. He is also willing to accept increases for veterans' affairs. In areas such as Health and Human Services (see below), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has suggested "meeting half way" on spending, but the White House seems unreceptive. Also unclear is what such a compromise would mean for some human service budgets.

At the same time, a compromise has not been reached on renewal of CHIP, with the President having already vetoed one bill, and a second veto possible. How the issues of appropriations and CHIP are decided will likely determine how soon Congress departs for this year.

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CHIP Reaches Critical Juncture

The long-term fate of the successful Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health insurance to more than 6 million children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage, remains undetermined. CHIP officially expired September 30 and has since been operating at FY 2007 funding levels through continuing resolutions.

President Bush vetoed Congress's first compromise bill (H.R. 976), which would have reauthorized CHIP with an additional $35 billion over five years, citing among his various points of disagreement the bill's price tag, its method of payment, and the overall direction it would take the program. President Bush has threatened to veto the second compromise reauthorization bill that Congress passed (H.R. 3963); unfortunately, bipartisan, bicameral attempts to further meet in the middle largely broke down before Thanksgiving recess.

The current continuing resolution only provides federal funding for CHIP through December 14, so with this latest deadline fast approaching, Congress finds itself again at a crossroads. If a deal is not reached in time, a short-term extension is likely, but it is unclear how long that extension would be.

One thing is clear: If CHIP is merely flat-funded, the Congressional Research Service estimates 21 states would exhaust all federal CHIP funds by the end of FY 2008, some states much earlier. In addition to stopping significant, laudable state progress to provide more low-income children with health insurance, this translates to the even more dire consequences of children currently eligible for the program being unable to gain coverage, and children currently enrolled having to be bumped off the rolls.

As previously reported, and as recently elaborated on in the San Francisco Chronicle, California is one state whose CHIP program faces great disturbance if it does not receive additional federal dollars. California has the largest CHIP program in the country, with more than 835,000 children enrolled. If California is only flat-funded, an estimated 66,000 children would have to disenroll each month to keep the program solvent. This means nearly 600,000 children--approximately 70% of those currently in California's CHIP, named "Healthy Families"--could lose coverage by next September. The board that runs Healthy Families is meeting December 5 to decide whether this action is necessary. With these real-world choices and potential impacts on the horizon, advocates are now asking Congress to, at a bare minimum, provide enough funding to ward off such state shortfalls.

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Clinton Introduces Legislation to Help Foster Youth, Promote Adoptions

Shortly before Congress left for the Thanksgiving break, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) introduced two bills on child welfare. The Focusing Investments and Resources for a Safe Transition Act, or FIRST Act (S. 2341), would create a grant program to states establishing Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) for foster youth. The proposal would create savings accounts for foster youth in which their savings would be matched two to one. Foster youth could withdraw IDA funds after age 18 for securing housing, education, vocational training, and business activities, under certain limitations. Applying states and partners would receive grants to match to youths' savings deposits.

The second bill was the Adoption Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 2395), which would authorization $50 million to fund at least 10 pilot projects that attempt to strengthen adoptions through increased parent recruitment, greater adoption information, increased staff training, and greater community involvement in addressing the challenges of increasing adoptions. The bill also calls for HHS to fund research as part of the pilot projects to determine the successes and challenges in increasing the numbers of adoptions.

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Thomas Foundation Releases Public Opinion Poll on Adoption

According to a new poll commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 30% of Americans have considered adoption, and of those who have, 71% have considered adoption from the U.S. foster care system. The poll also found nearly half of adults have been touched by adoptions, meaning they have adopted, have been adopted, or have family or close friends who have adopted.

The poll, conducted Harris Interactive, interviewed more than 1,600 adults last spring. The survey generally shows a positive view of adoptions, with more than 90% of the public judging private adoptions as extremely favorable, very favorable, or favorable. Eighty-eight percent felt the same way toward adoptions from foster care, and 65% felt that way about international adoptions.

The poll also revealed some serious misconceptions. Thirty-seven percent of respondents had a negative view of foster care. Breaking those numbers down, the survey found that generally men, African Americans, and adults age 18-24 and 65 or older were more favorable in their opinions of foster care, whereas women, Hispanics and whites, married couples, and adults age 25-64 were more negative. That negative opinion may also be driven by some misconceptions about the foster care system--45% believed one of the reasons children were in foster care was because they were juvenile delinquents.

Most also underestimated the number of children in care waiting to be adopted: Only 39% correctly estimated the number to be more than 100,000--in 2005, 122,000 children were waiting to be adopted.

Read the executive summary the full report.

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Appropriations Update

Of the 12 appropriations bills, the President has signed one (Defense), vetoed one (Labor-HHS), and says he will sign a third (Military Construction and Veterans Affairs).

Just before the Thanksgiving break, President Bush vetoed the appropriations bill for the departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor (Labor-HHS). He indicated Congress was spending too much and vetoed the bill because it exceeded his budget request. The House failed to override his veto in a close vote. The bill would allocate more than $600 billion, which includes Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlements. Part of the $600 billion is $150 billion in annually appropriated or discretionary funds. The bill would spend $6.2 billion more than 2007 and nearly $10 billion more than the President's request.

The President did sign the appropriations for the Defense Department. That bill spends $459 billion in discretionary funds. The 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. See a chart of all Labor-HHS-Education spending.

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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.

Subscribe to Legislative Alerts.

Subscribe to Children's Monitor.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

December 14: Target adjournment date
Continuing resolution to fund the government runs out
January 7: Projected start of Second Session of the 110th Congress
January 29: Projected date for President's State of the Union Address
February 4: President's proposed budget for FY 2009 submitted to Congress
February 25-27: CWLA National Conference


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