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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 4: 1/26/2009   
Headlines

White House Conference Bill Reintroduced

House Committees Vote on Recovery Package, Title IV-E Included

Economic Recovery Package Includes Health Care Assistance

State Budget Help Provided from Many Directions

Help for Unemployed Could Serve Dual Purpose

Job Creation Focuses on Infrastructure

House Tax Provisions Aimed at Individuals, Families

SCHIP Moving Forward

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

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

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



White House Conference Bill Reintroduced

On January 21, Representatives Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), along with 19 cosponsors, reintroduced the bill to reestablish a White House Conference on Children and Youth in 2010. The bill, H.R. 618, like all other legislation left over from the 110th Congress, had to be reintroduced.

In commenting on the legislation, Fattah said, "Children are our national treasure and we must renew our commitment to them. As leaders, it's our job to make certain that their basic needs are met and their life chances are advanced. The conference will bring together child experts who will work to find effective ways to help improve the life of a child, thereby changing the lives of future generations."

Platts, who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, said "By reconvening the White House Conference on Children and Youth, we can ensure that the federal government is offering the most effective programs to help America's children excel in all aspects of their lives."

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is expected to reintroduce the Senate bill, which last year had the cosponsorship of then-Seantors Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Although the legislation calls for a conference at some point in 2010, before a conference takes place in Washington, the lead up to the conference would result in perhaps hundreds of meetings and sessions nationwide involving communities, states, and organizations wanting to focus attention and potential solutions on their most vulnerable families and children. The legislation is almost identical to last year's bill.

Reflecting on the last 10 months since the original bill was introduced, CWLA President and CEO Christine James-Brown commented, "Since this bill was introduced last year, we made great progress in advancing support for a White House Conference on Children and Youth. Since its initial introduction, the nation's economy, and the resulting impact on the well-being of children, has taken a turn for the worse. If anything, the need for this legislation is even more critical today than it was a year ago. It is vital to helping children and the communities in which they live."

Read a copy of the bill.

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House Committees Vote on Recovery Package, Title IV-E Included

On January 21, House committees began voting on their respective parts of the stimulus package known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), including the House Appropriations Committee, which voted on much of the spending portions of the bill. On January 22, the Ways and Means Committee debated and voted on the tax provisions and unemployment compensation, while the Energy and Commerce Committee worked on several health care provisions discussed in greater detail below.

A similar process will take place in the Senate beginning January 27, when the Finance and the Appropriations Committees are scheduled to debate and vote on their versions of the package. The Senate bill is expected to differ slightly, but the overall approach will be similar to the House bill.

The total package is close to $825 billion, including $275 billion in tax reductions. The spending and taxes span two years. Perhaps the most significant part of the proposal for child welfare, at least in the House bill, is a two-year boost to Title IV-E (foster care, adoption assistance, and kinship care). The measure temporarily increases both the Medicaid and Title IV-E reimbursements to states. States receive matching funds for Medicaid IV-E programs based on the Federal Medical Assistance Program (FMAP) rate. Under the bill, this rate would increase by 4.9% for each state, retroactive to October 1, 2008, and lasting until December 31, 2010.

Due to the bill's extensive nature, we have broken out the general areas of impact in the articles that follow. The bill generally divides into the categories of state relief, individual relief, job creation, and tax breaks. All pieces, taken together, are intended to keep and create jobs while assisting individuals and states hurt by the recession.

For example, an increase to the Food Stamp program, now know as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), is intended to help low-income people and those who have lost their jobs. Many economists argue that an increase in food stamps is one of the quickest ways to get money flowing into the economy, since those same individuals are likely to spend the assistance immediately, in turn boosting the grocery and agriculture industries.

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Economic Recovery Package Includes Health Care Assistance

ARRA contains several important health care provisions, discussed here as they existed at press time-some may have since been altered during committee markups late last week. Under the act, state Medicaid FMAP rates would increase 4.9%, retroactive to October 1, 2008, through December 31, 2010, as long as states maintain their Medicaid eligibility rules and procedures as they existed on July 1, 2008. States with large increases in unemployment would be eligible for additional FMAP increases.

CWLA and many other organizations have advocated for such a temporary FMAP increase to help ensure vital health care services remain intact for vulnerable populations during the recession. In conjunction with the FMAP increase would be a 4.9% increase to the Title IV-E match, as discussed above.

In addition, the ARRA would extend the moratoria on six Medicaid regulations, including rehabilitation and transitional medical assistance (TMA), to June 30, 2009. The Medicaid regulation pertaining to outpatient hospital services would also be put under moratorium until June 30, 2009.

TCM permits individuals leaving welfare and entering the workforce to receive up to one year of Medicaid coverage would be extended by ARRA through December 31, 2010. States would also have the option to use initial 12-month TMA eligibility periods to reduce administrative burden and turnover. Another new option would allow states to provide family planning services to low-income women without first having to obtain a waiver. Studies have shown that reducing barriers to Medicaid family planning services would reduce unplanned pregnancies and produce cost savings for both federal and state budgets.

ARRA would provide substantial opportunities for unemployed workers to receive health coverage. States could opt to cover temporarily any of the following populations, with the federal government financing 100% of the new Medicaid category through December 31, 2010: individuals receiving, but who have exhausted, their unemployment benefits; individuals receiving food stamps but who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid; and individuals in families below 200% of the federal poverty level. These individuals must have exhausted their unemployment benefits or lost their jobs between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2010.

Finally, ARRA provides a new option to continue health coverage for individuals who lose or have lost their jobs for reasons other than gross misconduct between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, and who worked at businesses of 20 or more employees. This provision would be a modification of COBRA, with the individual responsible for only 35% of the premium and the government subsidizing the remaining 65%. This continuance could last up to 12 months past the involuntary terminatio, but would also terminate upon an offer of new employer-sponsored coverage.

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State Budget Help Provided from Many Directions

In addition to temporary expansion of Medicaid and support for Title IV-E funding, under the economic recovery package, states would get help from increases in many human service areas. The TANF contingency fund would be increased by $2.5 billion. These TANF funds would be available to states if their TANF caseloads go up. The funds would be available to states at an 80% federal match (each state dollar drawing four federal dollars.) Child care discretionary funding would be increased by $2 billion. Current discretionary child care funds are at slightly more than $2 billion a year.

Education funding would be increased in several ways through boosts to both individual and state aid. For the states, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) would increase by $13 billion. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education grant would increase by $13 billion over two years. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Youth Act would increase by $66 million over two years. The infrastructure provisions include $20 billion that would flow through states for school construction and repair projects, with $6 billion of that reserved for higher education.

Funding for administering state child support programs would increase by $1 billion to encourage child support collection. One billion dollars would be added to increase cold and warm weather energy relief through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance block grant. Increases would come also in several funds provided at the local level, including additional Head Start funding of $2.1 billion (current annual funding is $7 billion). More increases include $5 billion for repair and modernization of public housing, with funds provided to local authorities; $4.2 billion for neighborhood stabilization projects; $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grant; and $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant.

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Help for Unemployed Could Serve Dual Purpose

Although an increase to food stamps is stressed as a way to help the individual and boost the economy, many other provisions of the recovery package could have the same impact. The food stamp/SNAP increases would total $20 billion, with increases to family benefit levels and increased support for single individuals. In addition to SNAP, ARRA includes increases of $200 million for senior meals, $726 million for afterschool meals, and $100 million for WIC (the Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children).

Job training funds would increase by $4 billion over two years, including $1.2 billion expected to create 1 million summer jobs for youth. Unemployment benefits would be extended by up to 33 weeks through the end of 2009. The total cost is $27 billion, with an additional $9 billion to increase weekly benefits to unemployed workers by $25; this increase in weekly benefits would be all federal dollars.

ARRA would provide $15 billion to support loans to low-income college students through the Pell Higher Education loans program, with the grant level increasing from $4,800 to $5,350, and an increase in the federal Stafford Loans. A tax credit would help offset higher education costs too. In addition to these direct assistance measures is a one-time 2009 additional Supplemental Security Income check for the elderly, calculated at the average monthly check received, which is expected to average $450 per person or $630 a couple.

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Job Creation Focuses on Infrastructure

The recovery package uses building and rebuilding the country's infrastructure as the main engine for creating and keeping jobs. First in this category is transportation funding. The House proposal would provide $30 billion for highway and bridge construction or repair. These projects either are ready or have been delayed and could begin relatively quickly.

The bill also includes $1 billion for new light and commuter rail construction, $2 billion for upgrades and repairs to transit systems, and $6 billion for transit projects, such as the purchase of buses to increase transportation capacity. Amtrak would receive $1.1 billion; airports would receive $3 billion for improvements.

In addition to transportation funding, ARRA includes nearly $7 billion for making federal buildings more energy efficient, nearly $7 billion to state and local governments to improve energy efficiency, $6.2 billion for home weatherization, and $11 billion to modernize the electric grid. Other areas receiving help include $3.1 billion for infrastructure and repair of the national park system, $6 billion for clean water in the form of local loans, $2 billion for loans for drinking water infrastructure, and $1.5 billion for improvements in rural water and waste disposal. Dozens of other provisions would touch energy and health research, veterans facilities, medical facilities within the Defense department, and environment cleanup.

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House Tax Provisions Aimed at Individuals, Families

The single biggest part of the tax package ($143 billion of the total $275 billion) would be devoted to the "Making Work Pay Credit," a tax credit for individuals and couples. The proposal would reduce tax withholdings be by $10 a week, up to $500 a year. Taxpayers would have an option to take the credit in one lump sum next year. The goal is to avoid what some economists saw as the ineffectiveness of last year's tax rebate checks, which many thought took too long to get into people hands. Many believe $10 a week would be spent right away and not require the additional months it took last year to get the checks out.

Also included in individual relief is a proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is based on an earned income and the number of children in a family. The expanded EITC would benefit families with three or more children.

In addition to the EITC, the child tax credit, which now provides a $1,000 credit per child, up to a maximum of two children, would be expanded. The credit phases out for lower- and upper-income families. The changes would allow low-income families to receive the full credit by making it fully refundable. The Ways and Means bill also provides an expanded credit for higher education, with a credit of up to $2,500 for each of the first four years, with 40% of the credit refundable.

Much of the remainder of the tax provisions are for businesses and include provisions to allow for greater depreciation of businesses losses, increased business expensing for small businesses, and an expansion of the opportunity tax credit for hiring disconnected youth, the unemployed, and recently discharged veterans.

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SCHIP Moving Forward

On January 14, the House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by a vote of 289-139, with 40 Republicans voting for passage. 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 measures. 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 provides enough funding to maintain coverage for those currently enrolled and to insure approximately 4 million additional children who are currently uninsured, many of who already are eligible for the program. 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 eliminates the current five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women, granting this population immediate access to much-needed health care services through Medicaid and SCHIP.

The Senate Finance Committee marked up and passed its legislation reauthorizing SCHIP on January 15, by a vote of 12-7. Like the House bill, it would provide coverage to nearly 4 million additional, currently uninsured children and would include many of the same policy improvements, including a better aligned financing structure and pediatric quality measures.

The committee passed an amendment, offered by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), that would, like the House bill, give states the option to eliminate the five-year waiting period for immigrant pregnant women and children. An important amendment by Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) also passed, providing wrap-around dental coverage under SCHIP for families with private insurance but no dental benefits. The Senate is expected to bring its SCHIP bill to the floor shortly, perhaps this week.

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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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 at www.cwla.org/conferences/ShowConference.asp?CONF=NATIONAL&YEAR=2009.

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 28
The Resilience of Youth


Coming Shows

February 4
Helping Foster Youth Make A Successful Transition To Independent Adulthood


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

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. CWLA is calling on Congress and the next President to reestablish this important policymaking tradition. The time to act is now. Your support and involvement are crucial.

You can support this effort by going to www.cwla.org/advocacy/whitehouseconf10.htm. There, you can sign on to support CWLA's call for a White House Conference in 2010, let your members of Congress know of your support, complete a survey about what areas you would like to see such a White House Conference focus on, see which members of Congress are cosponsoring the authorizing legislation for a White House Conference, learn how to get your board to pass a resolution supporting this effort, and more!

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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

February 2: FY 2010 Budget Released, Self-imposed Congressional deadline to complete recovery legislation
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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