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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 32: 9/8/2009   
Headlines

Busy Fall for Congress, Could Run Late Into Year

New Guidance Policies on Adoptions Based on Fostering Connections

Lawmakers Return, Health Reform Tops Agenda

President Obama to Address Joint Session of Congress on Health Reform

Home Visiting Update

Letters Give CHIP Guidance

CWLA Continues Survey on Prevention

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Busy Fall for Congress, Could Run Late Into Year

Both houses of Congress return today with much work to do. In addition to the major task of health reform, they will attempt to finish all 12 appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. The Senate will work on a bill to address global warming, following up on earlier work by the House of Representatives.

There will also be a series of other issues to work on. The Senate has still not approved Carmen Nazario to lead the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) even though her nomination has been approved by the Finance Committee. The nomination should not require a debate but a simple vote. In addition to that key human service position, the Finance Committee must hold a hearing on the nomination of Bryan Samuels to head of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF), the agency just below ACF. The Health Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee may act on the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Also drawing congressional attention this fall will be a possible start on education reform with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is better known as the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress may also begin hearings on the next reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.

Perhaps one of the most significant and poignant decisions will be who will take over the leadership of the HELP Committee after the recent passing of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The next in line for committee seniority is Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), but if Dodd takes over the HELP Committee, he would have to give up his chairmanship of the Banking Committee. If Senator Dodd passes up the opportunity, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) would have the option to become chair of the HELP Committee. Harkin, too, faces a dilemma, as he would be required to give up leadership of the Agriculture Committee. For a senator from Iowa such as Harkin, that may be a challenge. Third in line would be Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Senator Mikulski chairs a subcommittee on appropriations but would not have to relinquish that position. Senate Democrats have specific limitations on how many “A” committees you can be on and lead and Agriculture, Banking, and HELP are all considered “A” committees.

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New Guidance Policies on Adoptions Based on Fostering Connections

With the end of fiscal year 2009 approaching, ACF released two Program Instructions (PIs) based on the next phase of the Fostering Connections to Success Act. ACYF-CB-09-10 was issued on August 26, and provides states with guidance on parts of the law that begin on October 1, the start of FY 2010. At that point, states can begin to draw down federal Title IV-E funds for all special-needs adoption children age 16 and older. This begins the process of eliminating the current adoption assistance eligibility link to the AFDC program as it existed on July 16, 1996. In addition, as of October 1, any child who has been in foster care for five consecutive years (including time when the adoption was being finalized) will be eligible to be covered by federal funding. A third group of children, siblings adopted into a family where one of the other adopted siblings qualifies for federal coverage, will be eligible for the same Title IV-E coverage.

The second PI, ACYF-CB-PI-09-10, deals with the new expanded adoption incentives fund, which will provide states with increased bonuses if the state can increase the adoptions of older children from foster care. Under the incentive program, children 9 or older are considered older children. The law also continues incentives for all other special-needs adoptions. For the first time, the program now includes a more limited incentive for states that increase their adoption rate, as opposed to actual numbers. This new provision was included to address those states that may be increasing the rate of adoptions but whose numbers may be falling because the total number of children in care has gone down.

To obtain a copy of the PIs, visit the ACF website.


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Lawmakers Return, Health Reform Tops Agenda

The August recess proved busy when it came to health reform, with town hall meetings back in congressional districts full of lively debate and sparked with an occasional protest. Lawmakers return to Washington to try and complete comprehensive health reform this year. Before they left for recess, the three House committees with jurisdiction over health reform each independently approved the House health reform bill (H.R. 3200). The Senate HELP Committee also approved its health reform legislation. The final committee with immediate jurisdiction over health reform--the Senate Finance Committee--has not passed its bill, but a bipartisan group of Finance Committee members spoke by phone over recess to continue and try to hammer out details of their deal. The bipartisan Finance Committee negotiators met again by teleconference last Friday.

Key issues to be determined include whether the final package will include a public option, which would be a government-run or government-overseen plan that individuals could buy into as an alternative to private insurance. Both the House reform bill and the Senate HELP Committee bill include a public option, while the Senate Finance Committee is undecided as to whether it will include a public option. In addition to finalizing the substance of the legislative package, it is still unsure whether leadership will move the legislation through regular order or through the reconciliation process. Reconciliation would only require a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate to block a filibuster and pass the bill (as opposed to the standard 60). The 60-vote threshold is more difficult than ever to reach, with the recent significant void left by Senator Kennedy’s death. However, reconciliation is typically reserved for purely budget-related measures and could require splitting the legislation into parts.

CWLA has posted resources online (http://www.cwla.org/advocacy/healthreformresources.htm) to help our members and others wishing to become educated and engaged in the health reform debate. The resources include a helpful chart prepared by the Kaiser Family Foundation that compares the various health reform proposals currently being considered in Congress. The chart goes into detail about how, for example, employers would be affected and how the Medicaid program would be changed.

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President Obama to Address Joint Session of Congress on Health Reform

Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 9, President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress on one of his top domestic priorities: reforming and improving our nation’s health care system. The speech will come the day after lawmakers return to Washington from spending August recess back in their home states and districts. Exact details of President Obama’s statement are unknown, but it is expected that he will more specifically outline what the Administration views as “must haves” in any final health reform package. Facing opposition on particular parts of some of the reform bills currently being considered in Congress, it seems that certain provisions will have to be further compromised or entirely eliminated to achieve passage. These possible changes are also related to keeping overall cost of the package down. The announcement of President Obama’s joint session this Wednesday is welcome by many who have desired more affirmative specifics from the Administration regarding their desires and bottom line for a health reform deal.

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Home Visiting Update

Over the August break, CWLA encouraged people to contact their representatives and urge them to support health reform. One initiative in particular that CWLA is advocating for is home visiting. The America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, H.R. 3200, included home visiting provisions that would establish a new state grant under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act to provide mandatory funding to states to create and expand early childhood home visitation programs. This legislation would fulfill President Obama's $8.6 billion initiative to fund evidence-based home visitation programs. CWLA is very supportive of increasing funding to establish and expand home visiting programs and we anticipate that this provision will be included in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill.

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Letters Give CHIP Guidance

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently sent two State Health Official letters with further guidance on implementation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act that was signed into law earlier this year (P.L. 111-3). CHIP programs exist in every state and provide health coverage to millions of children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage. This year’s reauthorization maintains coverage for over seven million children and contains funding to expand CHIP or Medicaid coverage to over four million more.

The first State Health Official letter discusses application of Medicaid managed care protections to separate CHIP programs. The second letter explains how to ensure coverage of newborns born to mothers enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. The reauthorization guarantees coverage for these infants during their first year without having to prove citizenship. The two letters are available online.

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CWLA Continues Survey on Prevention

Last fall, CWLA posted a brief poll on our website asking what the White House Conference on Children and Youth should focus on. In the poll, individuals were asked to select three top issues. Prevention of child abuse and neglect was ranked by 16% of respondents as the number one priority--coming in ahead of other critical areas such as strengthening child protective services (14%) and youth transitioning out of foster care (11%). As a result and to continue the process, CWLA is going to use these survey findings to gather more information on each of the critical issues. We are asking you to take a new three-minute survey focused on prevention. Take the prevention survey and tell us what prevention services exist in your community. Are there waiting lists? How would you describe prevention?

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

October 1: Start of federal fiscal year 2010
October 15: Deadline for budget reconciliation instruction
October 30: Target adjournment date, House of Representatives (Senate TBA)


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