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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 14: 4/6/2009   
Headlines

Kathleen Sebelius More Likely to Be New HHS Secretary

Kennedy Serve America Act Speeds Way to President

Congress Takes Next Step on Budget Resolution and Reconciliation

Funds for Housing Assistance in the Stimulus Package

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



Kathleen Sebelius More Likely to Be New HHS Secretary

After holding off on any hearings for several weeks, last week the Senate sped up the process that should eventually lead to the approval of Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) to become the next Secretary of Health and Human services (HHS). On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing and took testimony from the governor, and on Thursday the Senate Finance Committee received her testimony and gave their approval. Senate leaders had hoped to give final approval before the start of the spring recess this week, but they need unanimous support for such an action and at least one senator placed an anonymous hold blocking a final vote.

HHS is the last remaining cabinet position to be filled. This is due at least in part to the nomination and then withdrawal of former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) from consideration. Most of the questions for Governor Sebelius were on health care and the administration’s plans to enact reforms this year. When asked by Senator Enzi (R-WY), the ranking member on the HELP Committee, about whether the administration would rule out the use of a reconciliation bill to pass health care reform, the governor indicated that the administration was committed to a bipartisan process but is “not taking any tools off the table.”

Senators also asked about rural access to health care and how to address the nursing shortage. Additional questions were asked concerning how to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its oversight of drugs and potential oversight of tobacco, and questions regarding the use of health research and it relationship to medical decision making.

At the outset of the hearings, members heard from former Senator and Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS), who gave a warm endorsement to his home state governor. He spoke at length about how Congress needed to get health care reform done, saying that it “was time to bite the bullet” and to “get it done this year.” Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) was also effusive in his praise of his home state governor even though she is from the opposite party.

The new head of HHS will have a big job. While her first and most prominent task will be overseeing any health reform package through Congress, HHS also has oversight of child welfare, child care, cash assistance, the Older Americans Act, the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the Office of Surgeon General, as well as health programs of which Medicare and Medicaid are the most prominent. While Senator Daschle was to occupy two positions, one as the secretary and one as the head of a new White House Office of Health Reform, that office will now be filled by Nancy-Ann Min DeParle. DeParle served in the budget office during the Clinton Administration and later oversaw Medicare and Medicaid.

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Kennedy Serve America Act Speeds Way to President

On Tuesday the House of Representatives gave final approval to national service legislation. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R. 1388) reauthorizes and expands the national service program that was originally signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

The new law expands national service in several ways. It creates new AmeriCorps programs that will include an Education Corps, a Clean Energy Corps, a Veterans Corp and a Healthy Futures Corps. Each of the new initiatives will seek to address critical needs in the specific areas targeted. Overall the expansion intends to increase the number of volunteers to 250,000 by 2014 from the current 75,000 slots at a cost of potentially $5.7 billion over the next five years if fully funded. Participants in the program receive a stipend and earn college scholarships which will increase from $4725 to $5350 per year. The increase matches the Pell grant awards.

The legislation includes several other provisions that will be of interest to the nonprofit and child welfare community. A Youth Engagement Zone will seek to expand the participation of young people in community service while in high school. There are also provisions that require engagement of out-of-school youth in such activities. When the Senate debated its version, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) was successful in adding a program for mentoring foster youth in this section of the bill. The new law will also create a Social Innovation Fund. The fund will provide applicants with $1 million to $10 million for each of five years for projects that invest in communities and seek to address specific problems including child and youth development, reduction in crime, reduction in poverty civic engagement, access to needed health services and educational and employment improvements. Applicants are required to use an "evidence-based" decision-making process.

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Congress Takes Next Step on Budget Resolution and Reconciliation

Last Thursday the House (H. Con. Res. 85) and Senate (S. Con. Res. 13) approved their versions of a budget resolution, setting up negotiations of a final version when Congress returns April 20. The final votes in both houses was largely along party lines. The House bill is closer to the overall goals of President Obama than the Senate's version. For FY 2010 the House resolution would allocate $7 billion less in discretionary spending than the President has asked for, while the Senate proposes $15 billion less. The key difference between the two is the inclusion of reconciliation instructions. The House resolution provides for a reconciliation process to pass health insurance reform and reforms on education. The Senate bill does not include reconciliation instructions.

A bill passed under the reconciliations rules would limit the hours of debate on a bill and would prohibit senators from using the filibuster to stop passage. If filibusters are allowed, at least 60 senators would have to support a final bill, whereas reconciliation only requires a simple majority (51) of senators. Republicans in the Senate are opposed to using the process, saying health reform must be bipartisan. Some Democrats including the chairs of the Budget and Finance Committees, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), respectively, have also voiced their opposition. It is possible that negotiators will create a window to allow health reform to be debated under the normal procedure and then set a limit to allow for reconciliation to be used if a bipartisan agreement can’t be reached at some point in the fall. Kathleen Sebelius was asked about reconciliation at her hearing for confirmation as HHS Secretary. She indicated that the administration wants to work in a bipartisan fashion but would not take any tool off the table.

In both the House and Senate versions, one of the most significant provisions are reserve funds that would allow for the creation of a new home visiting program, a significant priority for CWLA and one that the new administration has indicated it whishes to create. The program, encompassed in legislation as the Education Begins at Home Act, was passed by the House Education and Labor Committee last year and has already been reintroduced in the Senate, S. 244. A reserve fund is a technical budget tool which can help legislators find savings in parts of the federal budget to help fund future legislation.

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Funds for Housing Assistance in the Stimulus Package

The stimulus package signed into law in February includes significant new funding for housing assistance and to prevent homelessness, which could be used by child welfare agencies to keep families together. One source of these funds is through the Emergency Shelter Grant program, which includes $1.5 billion in funds for rental assistance, utility payments, and motel vouchers. The funds can also be used for case management services, outreach, and housing search and placement activities.

The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare and the National Alliance to End Homelessness have prepared analyses of these funds including descriptions and state-by-state breakdowns of the funds available. This information can be helpful to child welfare advocates to determine the extent to which these funds could apply to their programs.

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

On the Line with CWLA is a thought-provoking, interactive, live Internet radio program focusing on subjects, stories, and strategies of special interest to child welfare policymakers, providers, and practitioners. The program, devoted solely to discussions about 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 weekly program broadcasts Wednesdays, 2:00-2:30 pm ET. To listen to On the Line with CWLA, go to www.blogtalkradio.com/CWLA-Radio. The call-in number is 347/326-9411. Programming schedule subject to change.

This Week's Show

Wednesday, April 8
A Conversation With ... E. R. Frank, Novelist Who Inspired Lifetime TV Movie About Foster Care


Coming Shows

Wednesday, April 15
The Impact of Child Abuse and Neglect on the Community


Wednesday, April 22
The Impact of the Economic Downturn on the Delivery of Services: The Perspective of Public Agency Commissioners
(one-hour special)

Wednesday, April 29
The Impact of the Economic Downturn on the Delivery of Services: The Perspective of Private Agency CEOs
(one-hour special)

For more information, 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.

To subscribe to Legislative Alerts, visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/alerts.htm.

To subscribe to Children's Monitor, visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/monitoronline.htm.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

April 1: Start of Child Abuse Prevention Month
April 6-17th: Congressional Spring Recess
April 15: Target date to pass Congressional Budget Resolution
April 24: Children's Memorial Flag Day
May 3: Federal agencies begin reporting on allocations of entitlement funds under recovery plan
May 15: Detailed agency financial reports under recovery plan released
May 15: Target date for House to begin passage of 12 appropriations bills
May 20: Competitive grants and contracts under recovery plan available
June 27: Target date for House to complete work on appropriations


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