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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 3: 1/20/2009   
Headlines

Congratulations President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden

Recovery Package Likely to Be $825 Billion

Bond, Murray, Clinton Introduce Home Visiting, School Readiness Bills

CHIP Passes Full House, Considered by Senate Finance Committee

Fostering Connections to Success Could Bring Dollars to States

Committees Take Shape

Confirmations Continue

New Administration, New Capitol Visitors Center: Take a Round Trip Bus Ride to Capitol Hill on Advocacy Day

On the Line with CWLA, Speaking for America's Children

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Congratulations President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden

CWLA extends congratulations and best wishes to Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, and Joseph Biden, the 47th Vice President of United States, on the occasion of the 56th Inaugural of the President and Vice President of the United States.

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Recovery Package Likely to Be $825 Billion

On January 15, Congressional leaders released details of the economic recovery package they hope to pass by the scheduled Presidents Day recess in mid-February. Total cost is likely to reach $825 billion when tax reductions of $275 billion are added to $550 billion in spending proposals.

The plan as outlined by House Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI), is spread out over two years, with relief provided in a range of programs, including Medicaid, child care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and education. Relief would include extending unemployment compensation, extending health coverage to unemployed workers though either Medicaid or COBRA coverage, expanded eligibility for food stamps, and a variety of other supports from housing assistance to job training. At press time, the House Ways and Means Committee had not laid out how the tax reductions would be carried out.

The package would provide $87 billion in federal money to state-run Medicaid programs. This temporary adjustment to the federal match, or FMAP, would increase reimbursement to all states by 4.8% through the end of FY 2010. Education would receive a big boost, with $20 billion for school construction, $13 billion for IDEA special education, $13 billion for Title I K-12 programs, and more than $15 billion for higher education. The package also includes $2 billion for child care, $2.1 billion for Head Start, and $2.5 billion for TANF.

The package also includes several investments to infrastructure. One of the biggest is $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects, more than $10 billion for mass transit, and proposals for weatherization and other improvements to buildings, all of which are intended keep workers in their jobs or create new jobs on ready-to-go construction projects.

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Bond, Murray, Clinton Introduce Home Visiting, School Readiness Bills

On January 15, Senators Christopher Bond (R-MO), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) introduced the Education Begins at Home Act and the Ready to Learn Act. This bipartisan effort to provide America's children with the tools they need to thrive and begin the process of learning is key to ensuring their success. Studies show that children who attend quality pre-K programs are less likely to be held back a grade or need special education and more likely to graduate from high school. Providing critical education and family support--key components of both programs--ensures better results.

The bills would help strengthen America's children and families. The Education Begins at Home Act includes for the first time a significant federal investment in at-risk parents through nurse-facilitated home-visiting programs. The bill establishes the first-ever dedicated federal funding to support parents as educators at the state and local levels.

The Ready to Learn Act would help prepare children for kindergarten by providing funding for states through a competitive process to establish and administer voluntary preschool programs, while allowing governors to build on existing early childhood systems, including schools, child care providers, Head Start programs, or other community providers of pre-K programs.

Before their Senate careers, all three Senators witnessed the benefits of family strengthening and school-readiness programs, and they have long-standing commitments to these issues. President Obama and Vice President Biden were cosponsors of the original Education Begins at Home Act when they served in the Senate.

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CHIP Passes Full House, Considered by Senate Finance Committee

On January 14, the House passed a bill to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by a vote of 289-139. SCHIP provides health coverage to millions of children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but do not have access to private coverage.

In 2007, Congress passed two compromise bills that would have reauthorized and strengthened SCHIP, but President Bush vetoed both. As a result of this gridlock, SCHIP was extended through March 31, 2009, with sufficient funding to maintain current enrollment and avoid shortfalls (P.L. 110-173).

The bill the House passed last week (H.R. 2) is very similar to 2007's H.R. 976. Like that legislation, H.R. 2 would provide sufficient funding to insure approximately 4 million additional children who are currently uninsured. It also guarantees dental coverage and mental health parity for SCHIP enrollees, strengthens the program's financing structure to ensure greater stability for the state-run programs, offers grants for outreach activities, and begins a new child health quality initiative. A significant change and improvement from H.R. 976 is that the new bill would eliminate the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women, granting this population immediate access to much-needed health care through Medicaid and SCHIP.

On January 15, the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the SCHIP, marked up and passed its legislation reauthorizing the program. Like the House bill, it would cover approximately 4 million children who are currently uninsured and would include many of the same policy improvements, including a better aligned financing structure and pediatric quality measures. The Senate Finance chair's original mark did not address the issue of legal immigrant children and pregnant women, but an amendment was offered and passed during mark up that would give states the option to eliminate the five-year waiting period this population currently faces for Medicaid and SCHIP services. Some differences also exist between the House's and Senate's means of paying for the legislation; these will have to be resolved in conference.

With President Obama having signaled strong support for reauthorization and expansion of SCHIP, many, including CWLA, hope SCHIP reauthorization will be an early victory, setting the stage for health reform and further advances to children's mental and physical health care.

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Fostering Connections to Success Could Bring Dollars to States

Before Congress could pass the Fostering Connections to Success Act (P.L.110-351), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had to conduct a budget "score" or calculation of what the bill would cost and how much the budget saving portions of the bill would generate to make the bill cost neutral. Although CBO has a complex model for determining how much legislation will cost, the bottom line is that when the adoption delink is fully phased in over 10 years, the new law is expected to provide nearly a half billion more a year in federal adoption assistance funding.

When the option to extend foster care to age 21 is fully implemented by states, CBO projections for year 7 are that the law will provide $111 million a year in new federal funds. By year 10, states and tribes are expected to draw down approximately $737 million a year in additional federal funding. These costs, according to CBO scoring, are to be fully offset in part by states' use of the kinship guardianship option. CBO concluded the kinship guardianship option would result in savings because children would be shifted out of more-costly foster care placements.

CBO also calculated the education provisions may generate savings, should children not be able to meet the law's education requirements. The third item that offsets the cost is a change in the way federal operating funds are invested.

In part, CBO calculates the cost of these changes based on models that assume how much the new provisions will be used by states. The option to extend foster care to 21 possibly could provide states with more funding, depending on how quickly states take this option. Provisions such as expanding Title IV-E training funds to private agencies, which is expected to provide states with an additional $54 million a year, could provide more if states use the funds extensively. Likewise, states could see more funds if they are generous in their support for kinship families and are very successful in reaching the required education requirements for Title IV-E eligible children.

As is the case in almost all child welfare programs, the federal funds are not "free" and do require states to spend some funds. Although states are facing budget crises that could hinder their use of these new federal funds, the strategic use of these new federal dollars could help hard-pressed state budgets. For example, a state using state funds to cover the cost of kinship care might be able to use those same dollars as a match to bring in new federal dollars.

If part of a state's foster care population includes children being cared for by relatives, it is in a child's best interest that he or she not be reunited with his or her parents, and adoption is not appropriate, that state may be able to create a new guardianship program. This would allow the state to change the focus and support for that child and family from one of court oversight to support as a kinship family.

If a state has a number of private agencies paying the cost of training for child welfare workers in their agencies, new alliances and work between the state child welfare agency and private agencies could both leverage more federal dollars for training and create more training opportunities and cost savings for the state.

The Title IV-E program reimburses states at the same rate as Medicaid--the Federal Medical Assistance Program or FMAP rate. Some states, such as California or New York, receive a 50% federal match. A state with a 50% match will receive one federal dollar for every qualifying state dollar spent. On the other end of the fiscal spectrum is Mississippi, which receives a match of 75%, which means that for every state dollar spent, three federal dollars are provided for qualifying services. You can read the CBO score on our website.

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Committees Take Shape

Committee assignments are taking shape in the House and Senate, although Senate decisions have been slowed by the uncertainty of the body's final makeup. On the House side, many of the committee assignments are waiting for formal approval.

In both houses, the election has caused a great deal of change. With Democrats increasing their numbers in both the House and Senate, the ratio between Democrats and Republicans on each committee is altered. Senate Democrats likely will have a three-vote majority on most committees; in the last Congress, they had a one-vote majority. Senate committee assignments also have been affected by the fact that a record four members are leaving for the new administration: Barack Obama (D-IL), Joe Biden (D-DE), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Ken Salazar (D-CO).

On the critical Senate Finance Committee, Democrats have announced three new members: Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Robert Mendez (D-NJ), and Thomas Carper (D-DE). The Democratic majority was increased by two, from 11 to 13 seats, with a single vacancy created when Salazar was appointed Interior Secretary. Senate Republicans have not announced their choices, but will keep the 10 slots they had last Congress. The Republicans have two vacancies to fill, with the election year losses of Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and John Sununu (R-NH).

The Senate Health, Education, Pensions, and Labor (HELP) Committee will have four new members: Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), new Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and one to be determined. The HELP Committee lost two Democratic Senators: Obama and Clinton. The Republicans will have one vacancy with the departure of Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO).

In the House, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is roughly 60% on most committees. The most significant changes took place in the important Ways and Means Committee, where six Republicans did not run again and two additional members lost their bids for reelection. The key Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support will be dramatically different, with Democrats increasing their overall numbers by one, for a total of nine Democrats. The new members joining Subcommittee Chair Jim McDermott (D-WA) are Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and, returning after being off last session, Sander Levin (D-MI). Leaving the subcommittee is Representative Michael McNulty (D-NY).

On the Republican side, all five members are new to the subcommittee: Representatives John Linder (GA), Charles Boustany (LA), Dean Heller (NV), Peter Roskam (IL), and Patrick Tiberi (OH). Republicans no longer on the subcommittee include Jerry Weller (IL, retired), Phil English (PA, defeated), Jon Porter (NV, defeated), and two who have taken different assignments, David Camp (MI) and Wally Herger (CA).

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Confirmations Continue

The Senate is busy moving on the cabinet hearing process, but the Senate Finance Committee will not get to the nomination of Tom Daschle for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) until sometime this week. The HHS designee goes before two committees, the HELP Committee, which held a hearing January 8, and Finance. The Finance Committee has two immediate appointments to oversee HHS and Treasury, but also is handling significant portions of the economic recovery package and SCHIP reauthorization.

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New Administration, New Capitol Visitors Center: Take a Round Trip Bus Ride to Capitol Hill on Advocacy Day

By popular demand, CWLA will again offer round trip bus rides to Capitol Hill on Advocacy Day--February 24. CWLA's National Conference, Children 2009: Children Today...America's Future, February 23-25, will provide attendees with one of the first opportunities to come to Washington under President Obama and the new 111th Congress. This will be the first Advocacy Day since the opening of the new Capitol Hill Visitors Center.

CWLA members and other conference participants are strongly encouraged to go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday February 24 to talk to their members of Congress and ask them to support the call for the White House Conference on Children and Youth. Advocacy Day is also a wonderful opportunity for CWLA members to talk to their elected officials about the challenges in their state budgets and their effect on children and families.

This will be an energizing conference and one of the most important advocacy events for child welfare in 2009. Register online.

For more information about Advocacy Day, email Cristina Fahrenthold at cfahrenthold@cwla.org.

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On the Line with CWLA, Speaking for America's Children

On the Line with CWLA is a thought-provoking, interactive radio program focusing on subjects, stories, and strategies of special interest to child welfare policymakers, providers, and practitioners. The program, devoted solely to the welfare of America's vulnerable children, features a forum where numerous points of view and voices of experience within the child welfare universe can be heard.

The live program, hosted by broadcasting veteran Tony Regusters, is a production of CWLA that will provide a platform for CWLA member organizations, their staffs, its partners, and concerned citizens in the national community to share ideas and thoughts about critical issues that affect child welfare agencies, vulnerable children and teens, and their families.

The weekly subject-oriented, solutions-driven program will broadcast Wednesdays, 2:00-2:30 pm ET and feature indepth, timely discussions with leading child welfare experts, agents, and advocates; leadership and representatives from CWLA's member agencies; and local and national political figures working to improve child welfare and give a voice to child welfare professionals, providers, and practitioners nationwide.

Programming schedule subject to change.

This Week's Show

Wednesday, January 21
The Integration of Child Welfare and Mental Health Services for Foster Youth


Coming Shows

Wednesday, January 28
The Resilience of Youth


February 4
The American Academy Of Pediatrics' Task Force on Foster Care


February 11
The Link Between Juvenile Justice & Child Welfare: The Child Welfare/Juvenile Justice Systems Integration Initiative


February 18
A Conversation with Judge Lynn Toler, author of My Mother's Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius


February 25
On Location at CWLA's National Conference, Children Today...American's Future


For more information on the show, visit www.cwla.org/newsevents/cwlaradio.htm.

On the Line with CWLA is a production of the Child Welfare League of America, Arlington, Virginia. Programming schedule subject to change.

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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

January 20: Barack Obama sworn in as 44th President
February 2: FY 2010 Budget Released
February 16-20: Presidents Day Break
February 23-25: CWLA National Conference
March 6: Continuing resolution for FY 2009 expires
April 6-17: Spring recess


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