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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 22: 6/8/2009   
Headlines

Home Visiting Legislation Introduced, Hearing Set

HELP Committee Releases More Details of Health Reform Plan

Bill Reintroduced to Help Young Adults with Serious Mental Illness

Cindy Mann Appointed to Key CMS Position

Symposium Highlights Convention on the Rights of the Child

House Acts on Federal Employee Family Leave Bill

Appropriations Update

Forum Considers Impact of the Economic Crisis on Children

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

Correction



Home Visiting Legislation Introduced, Hearing Set

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support will hold a hearing Tuesday to review proposals to provide funding for grants to states to support early childhood home visitation programs. In announcing the hearing, Chairman Jim McDermott (D-WA) said, "Home visitation programs have a proven track record of increasing the chances that a child will have a safer, healthier, and more productive life. There is considerable interest in expanding these programs to reach more families. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to advance a proposal that will achieve that goal."

In addition, on Tuesday June 2, Representatives McDermott, Danny Davis (D-IL) and Todd Platts (R-PA) introduced the Early Support for Families Act (HR 2667), available online. The bill, which will be the focus of Tuesday's hearing, would provide mandatory funding to states to create and expand early childhood home visitation programs. Under the legislation funding would start at $100 million in 2010, increasing to $700 million by 2014. The bill would require a state match of 15% in the first year, 20% in the second, and a 25% match in the third. The bill builds off of previous bipartisan legislation that had been introduced in both the House and Senate that would support rigorously evaluated programs that utilize nurses, social workers, and other professionals and paraprofessionals to visit families, especially lower-income families, on a voluntary basis. If enacted, the bill would fulfill one of President Obama's first initiatives in the area of zero to five early childhood policy.

A growing body of research has found strong evidence that early childhood home visitation programs are effective in reducing the incidence of child abuse and neglect, and in improving child health and development, parenting skills, and school readiness. CWLA has been supportive of home visiting initiatives since the first piece of supporting legislation was introduced in Congress in the 108th session. We will continue to work to secure and expand federal funding for this initiative.

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HELP Committee Releases More Details of Health Reform Plan

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) offered the most detailed glance yet into his vision for comprehensive health reform last week, with the release of a briefing paper. In the paper, Kennedy, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions--one of the Senate committees with jurisdiction over health reform--recommends requiring all Americans to have health insurance, stressing responsibility of all affected parties, including individuals, employers, health insurers, medical providers, and government. Important points from the paper are that Kennedy's plan would likely: require premiums to be fair; provide premium assistance to make the purchase of private insurance affordable; strengthen the health workforce; address health disparities; and prohibit insurers from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. Kennedy's paper also suggests that he would provide a public plan coverage option. The HELP Committee may start marking up actual health reform legislation as early as June 16. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), working closely with Senator Kennedy, indicated that a public plan will be released this week.

The other Senate Committee with jurisdiction over health reform, the Finance Committee, has held a series of roundtable discussions on improving health care delivery, expanding coverage, and financing health reform. The committee has put out subsequent policy options papers for public comment. These roundtables will inform their ultimate bill. This committee, too, hopes to mark up actual legislation this month.

In the House, the three committees that share jurisdiction over health reform legislation--Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor--have been collaborating. The chairs of these committees, along with House Democratic leaders, have pledged to have a vote on the House floor on health care legislation before the August recess. Republicans will offer alternative legislation. Many groups including CWLA are advocating for the Medicaid program to be significantly strengthened as part of health care reform.

President Obama also held meetings with senators about his priorities and followed up with a letter to both the HELP and Finance Committees outlining his goals. In that letter, President Obama outlined his support for inclusion of a public plan. The public plan option has been a point of opposition for some Republican members of Congress. The public plan option would provide a public government plan that individuals could buy into as an alternative to private insurance options. Proponents believe that a public plan option would create more competition in the private sector and could hold private insurance premiums down. Opponents are concerned that a government plan would have too much of an advantage in the market and could hurt the private insurance sector.

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Bill Reintroduced to Help Young Adults with Serious Mental Illness

Last Wednesday, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), along with Representatives Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) and Dave Camp (R-MI), reintroduced the Healthy Transition Act. The legislation was first introduced in the 110th Congress in conjunction with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finding that in 2006, at least 2.4 million young adults aged 18 to 26 experienced a serious mental illness. Stark has said, "We have an obligation to ensure that young adults with mental illnesses get the treatment they need, and the current system is inadequate." To help this population access needed services and make a successful transition to adulthood, the bill would provide planning and implementation grants to states to develop statewide coordination plans to help adolescents and young adults with serious mental illness. States would be urged to target specific populations, including but not limited to youth involved with the child protection and juvenile justice systems. The legislation would establish a federal committee to coordinate service programs helping young adults with mental illness, and provide technical assistance to states. CWLA strongly supports this legislation, along with our friends at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the American Psychological Association, First Focus, and Mental Health America.

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Cindy Mann Appointed to Key CMS Position

On May 29, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appointed Cindy Mann to serve as Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations (CMSO), a key part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that oversees Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Mann had been serving as Executive Director of the Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families, a center she cofounded four years ago. Mann is widely hailed as an expert on health coverage, financing, and access issues affecting low-income populations. Before her impressive work at Georgetown, Mann served as Director of the Family and Children's Health Programs at CMSO from 1999-2001 and before that, led the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities federal and state health policy work. Mann was set to assume her new position today, June 8.

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Symposium Highlights Convention on the Rights of the Child

A symposium was held in Washington June 1 and 2 examining U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The United States and Somalia are the only countries that have not yet ratified the treaty. Much of the symposium focused on matching practice and policy in the United States with provisions in the treaty, and prospects for moving forward toward ratification in the U.S. Senate. CWLA President and CEO Christine James-Brown spoke at the symposium's closing plenary and urged all to get involved in the campaign for ratification and called on the Senate to take up this issue as soon as possible.

The CRC calls on governments to develop and implement policies and programs that ensure children grow up in supportive family and community environments that foster an atmosphere of happiness, love, and understanding. The Convention sets out basic standards which individual nations agree to pursue on behalf of children. The standards rest on four underlying principles: the right to survival; the right to develop to the fullest potential; the right to protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and the right to participate in family, cultural, and social life.

It is not clear when the Senate will consider ratification, but there is certainly growing interest and support. For more information visit CWLA's advocacy page. The full text of the Convention is available from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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House Acts on Federal Employee Family Leave Bill

On Thursday, June 4, the House of Representatives passed HR 626, a bill that would provide up to four weeks of paid family leave time for birth, adoptive, and foster parents when a child joins the family. The legislation builds on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 that requires some limited unpaid leave time to parents. The House bill would require four weeks of paid leave to some federal government employees. The new bill applies not just to the birth of a new child, but would also extend the four-week leave to adults who become new parents through an adoption and parents who are beginning foster care. In many European countries, paid family leave is mandated for all employers. The 1993 act requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

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Appropriations Update

The appropriations process began to pick up speed last week when the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS). The Secretary gave the broad overview of spending in HHS and emphasized the Administration's top priority of health care reform. A day later, the Senate Subcommittee on Labor-HHS held a hearing with the Secretary of Education. Although over the past eight years the Labor-HHS appropriations bill has generally been left as the last been to see action, last year House Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WS) put it near the front of the list. While the Labor-HHS Subcommittee continued the hearing process on its departments, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science passed its bill, making it the first of 12 to go to full committee. CWLA's detailed analysis of the President's budget is available as a PDF.

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Forum Considers Impact of the Economic Crisis on Children

The New American Foundation hosted a panel discussion June 3 regarding the economic crisis's impact on children and youth. Through the use of 28 indicators, the Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) tracks the well-being of children. Kenneth C. Land of Duke University and his associates have forecast that in 2010 the CWI will be just above the 1975 base year index score of 100; this is a decline of two points from the current score. The main cause of this decline is the rise in unemployment. Possible secondary effects of a rise in unemployment might include an increase in obesity and health concerns for children since parents may substitute fast food for fruits and vegetables, an increase in crime because of cutbacks on before- and after-school prevention programs, and a decrease of pre-Kindergarten programs because of cutbacks in public education. Land and Greg Acs, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, expressed an urgent need to take action. They highlighted the need to execute public outreach and education for parents, focusing on parenting while coping with economic stress, possibly through printed materials, social workers, and public access. The full 2009 Foundation for Child Development report can be found online.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

June 27: Target date for House subcommittees to complete work on appropriations
June 27-July 5: Congressional break
August 1-September 7: House summer break
August 8-September 7: Senate summer break
October 15: Deadline for budget reconciliation instruction

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Correction

Last week, the Monitor included an incorrect link in the article "HHS Announces Tribal Consultation on Head Start." The correct link is http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-12396.pdf.

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