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

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 48: 12/17/2007   
Headlines

President to Get His Budget Totals

CHIP Extension Likely

Bill Would Open Chaffee Funds for Private School Vouchers

Join CWLA's Call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



President to Get His Budget Totals

As Congress attempts to wrap up its work on the 2008 budget, it looks like the President will get much of what he wants. Of the 12 appropriations bills, the President has signed one (Defense, P.L. 110-116), vetoed one (Labor-HHS, Conference Report 110-424), and said he would sign a third (Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Conference Report 110-424). The federal budget totals more than $1.7 trillion dollars, but when entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are taken out, there is approximately $920 billion in discretionary or appropriated funds that Congress determines every year. Half of that amount goes to the Defense Department, and it does not include funding for the wars.

Congress had passed bills that would increase funding by approximately $22 billion more than the President sought. With the President claiming he would veto almost every appropriations bill outside of Defense and Military Construction, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would attempt to split the difference and pass one omnibus bill that would provide $11 billion over the President's budget. Almost immediately, the White House said it would veto such a bill. Within days, Congressional leadership said it would agree to the President's totals.

At press time, Senate and House leaders were still negotiating how funds would be spread across the various federal departments. There was some indication Congressional leaders would not necessarily fund programs at the levels the President had requested, but it is unclear whether the White House would accept a bill that keeps spending at the Administration's overall spending level but does not fund its priorities.

The legislation for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education increased spending by approximately $7 billion over last year. Total discretionary or annually appropriated funds for the three federal departments totals $150 billion. If Congress were to adopt the President's request for Labor-HHS-Education, it would mean real cuts to programs, not just a freeze.

For example, the President has requested, and repeated in his veto threat, that the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) portion of the bill be cut by half a billion dollars, or 30 %. SSBG provides approximately 11% of child welfare funding nationally, and much more than that in some states. Despite the increases provided by Congress to the overall bill, funding for vital children's programs are increased only slightly or are frozen. Funding for child care is increased by approximately $30 million, for a total of just over $2 billion. Head Start is increased by $150 million, to just over $7 billion. Funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program is frozen at current levels.

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CHIP Extension Likely

After Congress managed to pass two strong, forward-moving bills to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it appears internal gridlock and opposition from the Administration have crushed the opportunity for a five-year reauthorization. CHIPs exist in every state and provide much-needed 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.

Having begun in a bipartisan fashion 10 years ago, and known as an overall success, CHIP's reauthorization has been a priority for many members of Congress this year. Both bills Congress passed would have maintained current enrollment for more than 6 million children and encompassed nearly 4 million additional more in either Medicaid or CHIP, most of whom are already eligible for the programs.

President Bush vetoed Congress's first bill (H.R. 976), citing among his various points of disagreement the bill's price tag and its method of payment. Congress sent its second reauthorization bill (H.R. 3963), which sought to address opponents' concerns, to the President on November 30, and he vetoed that bill as well.

A bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers have been meeting and negotiating for more than a month to try and further a long-term reauthorization. Although talks seemed to be flowing at first, they largely broke down before the Thanksgiving recess. CHIP officially expired on September 30 and has since been operating through continuing resolutions, the latest of which expired December 14. Congress is expected to pass a simple extension of the program, possibly through the end of fiscal year 2008. This is due to the latest veto from the White House, the apparent impasse in Congress, and the December 14 deadlilne--compounded by its extremely full agenda.

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that if CHIP were merely flat-funded, 21 states would exhaust all federal CHIP funds by the end of FY 2008. Children's advocates, therefore, including CWLA, are urging that if a five-year reauthorization is impossible, and a shorter extension necessary, Congress must, at minimum, provide sufficient funding to maintain current enrollment and program operations. House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) has indicated Republicans would support such an inclusion of extra money to avoid shortfalls at the state level.

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Bill Would Open Chaffee Funds for Private School Vouchers

On December 6, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) introduced the School Choice for Foster Kids Act, HR 4311, which would open the Chaffee education voucher program to all children in foster care to provide vouchers to private schools. Currently, the program, created under the Bush Administration, provides $46 million in funds to provide vocational and higher education vouchers for youth who are leaving care. States may use the funds for foster youth ages 16-23 to provide ongoing education, including vocational and college education. The new bill would expand these funds to all children in care to provide private school vouchers. States could also use funds for transportation costs for both public and private schools.

CWLA has been a part of a coalition working on reform efforts as part of the No Child Left Behind reauthorization. This effort focuses on changes in the McKinney-Vento Act, which is part of No Child Left Behind, and provides certain protections to homeless children for their education rights.

Frequently, foster children are forced to move from their schools at the very time they need the stability a school setting can provide. The proposed reforms would extend certain education rights to children in foster care, including the right to remain in the same school or the right to immediate admission into a new one. A voucher approach may not address that situation, since the goal is for children to have permanency through reunification, adoption or kinship placements, leaving care to be reunified with their families. How a private school voucher could be used for children who were once in care is not clear. CWLA joined on a paper issued by a coalition of groups in support of changes to the McKinney-Vento Act. See the CWLA website to view the recommended changes.

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Join CWLA's Call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth

Holding a White House Conference on Children will bring together a cross-section of policymakers, advocates, professionals (including the courts), and families and children directly affected by the child welfare system to create recommendations for policy and change. Much positive change has come from previous White House conferences for children, the last one being held in 1970. CWLA is calling on Congress and the next President to reestablish this important policymaking tradition, and the time to act is NOW.

Your support and involvement with this effort is crucial to its success. As experts in the field, we look to you for your leadership in asking Congress and others to support this important campaign for children.

Sign On in Support

CWLA is calling on members and supporters to sign on in support of a White House Conference on Children in 2010.

Pass a Board Resolution

If your organization requires you to pass a board resolution to officially support such an effort, CWLA has created a sample resolution to assist you in this effort.

Let Congress Know of Your Support

The League encourages you to send your resolutions and letters of support to your Congressional delegation. Without their support, a White House conference is not possible.

In keeping with CWLA's tradition of nonpartisanship, the letter has been sent to all presidential candidates in the two major parties. View the website, read the letter, and sign on to support the campaign.

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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
December 14: Continuing resolution to fund the government runs out
January 15: Start of Second Session 110th Congress
January 22: 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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