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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 17: 5/4/2009   
Headlines

Sebelius Becomes 21st HHS Secretary

Landrieu Reintroduces Legislation to Hold White House Conference on Children and Youth

Add Your Support to Loan Forgiveness Letter---Deadline is May 5

Budget Resolutions Adopted, Appropriations Begin

Senate Finance Continues Efforts from Health Reform Roundtables

NSDUH Report on Children Living with Substance-Dependent or Substance-Abusing Parents

Child Care Advocates Plan Mother's Day Greetings for First Lady

CWLA Supports National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, May 7

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Sebelius Becomes 21st HHS Secretary

On Tuesday, April 28, the Senate by a vote of 65 to 31 approved Governor Kathleen Sebelius as the 21st Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Shortly after, she was sworn in as head of HHS. As secretary, Sebelius oversees Medicare, Medicaid, most child welfare programs through the Administration for Children and Families, and other key programs including child care, Head Start, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Office on Aging, the Surgeon General, and the Public Health Service. The Department was created in 1953 under President Dwight Eisenhower as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. It was changed in 1979 to the Department of Health and Human Services when the Education Department was created.

Secretary Sebelius's first big challenge will be immediate as she tackles the potential flu pandemic. At the same time, Sebelius will be working with Congress as they begin the health care reform debate, which could prove contentious. As the last cabinet member to be confirmed, Sebelius also must fill a number of leadership vacancies in her department. Currently there are 13 different agencies within HHS, including the Administration for Children and Families, which has jurisdiction of child welfare and other children's issues. It is too early to tell what restructuring could unfold, but occasionally, changes are fairly drastic. In 1977, the Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA) was created to oversee Medicare and Medicaid separate from the Social Security Administration. In 2001, the Bush Administration changed HCFA into the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). During the Clinton Administration, the Child Care Bureau was created but both Head Start and the Child Care Bureau were downsized in the Bush Administration. The Child Care Bureau became part of the Office of Family Assistance.

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Landrieu Reintroduces Legislation to Hold White House Conference on Children and Youth

On Thursday, April 30, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) reintroduced her legislation to hold a White House Conference on Children and Youth, S 938. Joining on as cosponsors are Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Mark Begich (D-AL), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Robert Casey (D-PA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The bill mirrors legislation introduced in the House in January by Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), HR 618.

The legislation follows the design of previous White House Conferences on Children and Youth, and Conferences on Aging---establishing a policy committee to oversee the two-year process, including the design of an agenda, the selection of delegates, and the convening of mini-conferences. Once enacted, the president designates a specific time for the Washington conference to be held. Since the bill was originally introduced in the 110th Congress, it has lost Senate supporters from both sides of the aisle: Chuck Hagel (R-NE) retired, and Gordon Smith (R-OR) lost his reelection bid, while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have moved on to jobs in the executive branch.

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Add Your Support to Loan Forgiveness Letter---Deadline is May 5

CWLA and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) have joined forces in circulating a national and state organization sign-on letter to congressional appropriators in support of loan forgiveness. The letter asks appropriators to allocate $100 million for the new loan forgiveness program that was included in last year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The loan forgiveness program would cover 17 areas or professions of "national need" including child welfare workers working in public or private agencies, early childhood and child care teachers and Head Start teachers and many other understaffed professions. If an individual is qualified, he or she would be eligible for $2000 in loan forgiveness for every year spent working in his or her respective field for up to five years (making a possible total of $10,000). The goal is to get some initial funding for the new program in the FY 2010 budget so that the Education Department will issue guidance and regulations in regard to how funds would be dispersed and how eligible workers would qualify.

If your state or national organization would like to sign on, send an e-mail with the name of your organization, whether it is a state or national organization, and your contact information to jsciamanna@cwla.org. The deadline is Tuesday, May 5.

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Budget Resolutions Adopted, Appropriations Begin

Last week, lawmakers in the House and Senate reached agreement on a $3.56 trillion budget outline for FY 2010 (Conference Report to Accompany S. Con. Res. 13). There were four reserve funds relating to children and families included in the budget. The first would reform financing for child welfare services and calls for greater investment in a range of child welfare services. The second would assist in the recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive parents. The third would provide funding to states for home visiting programs. In relationship to this Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) reintroduced his home visiting bill on Thursday; HR 2205, the Education Begins at Home Act, made it out of the House Education and Labor Committee in the last Congress.

The fourth and final reserve fund in the budget resolution is for health care reform. In an attempt to move the country one step closer to overall healthcare and education reform, reconciliation instructions were included as well. A bill passed under the reconciliation rules would limit the hours of debate and would prohibit senators from using the filibuster to stop passage. There are senators who are opposed to using reconciliation on the premise that health reform must be bipartisan.

The House passed the conference report on the FY 2010 budget by a vote of 233 to 193 and the Senate followed later in the day with a vote of 53 to 43 in support of the measure. The final votes in both houses were largely along party lines. The budget resolution does not require President Obama's signature. With a resolution in place, the Congress will now start to work on passage of 12 appropriations bills. The Obama Administration is expected to send Congress its detailed line-by-line budget at some point in mid-May. Normally a detailed budget is released in February, but the combination of transition to a new administration and enactment of an economic recovery package made this an unusual budget year.

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Senate Finance Continues Efforts from Health Reform Roundtables

On April 21, the Senate Finance Committee held a roundtable discussion of health care stakeholders on how to lower costs and improve quality in the way care is delivered to patients. This roundtable discussion is the first of a series, intended to inform comprehensive health reform legislation that the Committee's Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) hopes to mark up in June. Moving the process along, last week, Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) released policy options for improving health care delivery. Baucus and Grassley walked through these options with other Finance Committee members last Wednesday with the hope of informing its later reform proposals. These delivery options suggest amongst other things: creating a value-based incentive, rather than a volume-based incentive for Medicare; promoting primary care; fostering care coordination; and providing greater infrastructure, including health information technology. The public has until May 15 to comment on the delivery system reform policy options. The Finance Committee's next two roundtables will focus on covering more of the uninsured and on financing health reform. The public will have an opportunity to comment on suggested policy options for each topic.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the three Committees in the House that share jurisdiction over health (Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor) are also working diligently on health reform. As mentioned above, the budget resolution recently passed by Congress contains reconciliation instructions for health reform. If reconciliation is in fact used, the committees of jurisdiction would have until October 15 to pass health care reform legislation. Reconciliation would limit the hours of debate and permit legislation to pass with a simple majority as opposed to the typical 60 votes needed in the Senate.

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NSDUH Report on Children Living with Substance-Dependent or Substance-Abusing Parents

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported last week that over 8.3 million children under the age of 18 (11.9%) lived with at least one parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol or an illicit drug during the past year. The findings are based on combined data from 2002 to 2007 that asked 87,656 parents aged 18 and older about their substance dependence and abuse. Of the 8.3 million, almost 7.3 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol, while about 2.1 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused illicit drugs. The survey defines "dependence" or "abuse" using criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

This survey is of importance because children's exposure to parental alcohol and other drug use undoubtedly puts them at risk. Substance abuse is estimated to be a factor in one- to two-thirds of cases of children with substantiated reports of abuse and neglect, and in two-thirds of cases of children in foster care. Children from families with substance abuse problems tend to come to the attention of child welfare agencies younger than other children, are more likely than other children to be placed in out-of-home care, and are likely to remain there longer. For more information and policy recommendations, see CWLA's Legislative Agenda.

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Child Care Advocates Plan Mother's Day Greetings for First Lady

Child care advocates are encouraging citizens to send an e-mail message to First Lady Michelle Obama in honor of Mother's Day. The message is a thank you to the First Lady for highlighting the importance of child care for working families. The National Women's Law Center, which is one of the groups leading the effort, has an easy-to-use website that allows advocates to send a simple message about the importance of child care.

The First Lady has emphasized families in her first days in Washington. Her first visit to a nonprofit agency in Washington DC was to St. Mary's Center for Maternal & Child Care and her first visit out of town was to North Carolina to visit with military families.

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CWLA Supports National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, May 7

CWLA is joining with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support the fourth annual National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day on May 7. Awareness Day is an opportunity for SAMHSA, SAMHSA-funded communities, and partner organizations such as CWLA to raise awareness of effective programs for children's mental health needs and promote positive youth development, recovery, and resilience.

The theme for this year's Awareness Day is Thriving in the Community, highlighting that high school youth who receive the services they need are more likely to have positive outcomes, such as better grades and higher rates of education, and less likely to have negative outcomes, such as involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Moderate to severe mental health and behavioral problems affect 50-80% of children in out-of-home care. Despite the disproportionate need, some estimate only about 25% of children in foster care receive mental health services at any given time. Consequently, CWLA and our members have long been committed to better addressing the mental health care needs of children and youth in the child welfare system and to the system of care philosophy in child mental health services.

For more information about what your community and organization can do to support National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day on May 7, visit the website.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

May 3: Federal agencies begin reporting on allocations of entitlement funds under recovery plan
May 7: National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day
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
May 23-31: Memorial Day congressional break
June 27: Target date for House to complete work on appropriations
October 15: Deadline for budget reconciliation instructions


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