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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 33: 9/14/2009   
Headlines

Health Care Debate Picks Up Speed

Miller Early Learning Fund Bill on House Floor, Supporters Urged To Call

Ways and Means Committee To Hold Fostering Connections Oversight Hearing

Fewer Uninsured Children, but Overall Uninsured and Poverty Numbers Increase

Harkin to Chair Senate HELP Committee

Securing Housing Services for Youth in Transition

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Health Care Debate Picks Up Speed

Last week, the first week back after August recess, Congress stepped right back into one of its top legislative priorities--overhauling our nation’s health care system. President Barack Obama also forayed into the mix by delivering a speech to a rare joint session of Congress, entirely focused on the importance of achieving comprehensive health reform this year. In his address, President Obama focused on three cornerstones. First, for those who have health insurance, health reform will only provide more stability and security. The bills currently being considered would prohibit insurers from being able to discriminate based on preexisting conditions and would cap out-of-pocket expenses so that individuals and families are not overburdened with health expenses. Second, if individuals do not have health insurance, the President stated that health reform will provide quality, affordable choices for all Americans. And third, the President explained that health reform will reign in the cost of health care for the nation’s families and businesses, as well as for the government. While the President expects health reform to cost around $900 billion over 10 years, he specified that he will not sign a bill that adds one dime to the deficit.

Last week, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) also made a significant announcement that he will release the Chairman’s Mark by the middle of this week and will begin Committee markup the week of September 21. The Senate Finance Committee is the final immediate body of jurisdiction to introduce and approve health reform legislation. Before they left for August recess, the three House Committees with jurisdiction over health reform each independently approved the House health reform bill (H.R. 3200), but it still has to be approved by the full House. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved its health reform legislation on July 15. Assuming the Senate Finance Committee approves its legislation, it will have to be reconciled with the Senate HELP Committee’s bill and then passed by the full Senate. A long road lies ahead for health reform this fall, but Congressional leadership and the Administration remain committed. CWLA has posted resources online to help individuals become educated and involved in the health reform debate.

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Miller Early Learning Fund Bill on House Floor, Supporters Urged To Call

The House of Representatives is expected to take up legislation this week to create a new Early Learning Challenge Fund. The bill, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, H.R. 3221, is sponsored by Representative George Miller (D-CA). It passed the House Committee on Education and Labor in mid-July. The focus of the legislation is to reform the college loan system and make student loans more affordable, but Title IV of the legislation includes an Early Learning Challenge Fund. This fund would provide an early down payment on President Obama’s efforts to better coordinate services and support to very young children. The birth to five population will benefit from the home visiting legislation being debated as part of health care reform but another important effort is better coordination and greater funding between Head Start, child care, and state pre-K programs which could be achieved with the Early Learning Challenge Fund.

The new Early Learning Challenge Fund would provide competitive grants to states to coordinate services and standards for and between those early childhood programs. Coordination is actually required as part of the state application and planning process. The overall goal of the new initiatives is to improve early learning standards across programs, enhance program review and monitoring, improve and provide comprehensive professional development, improved support for parents who may use or enroll their children in one or more of the programs and to improve outcomes for children participating in these early learning programs. The legislation also directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Education to jointly administer the program. The funding is set at $1 billion a year from 2010 through 2019. Funds are raised through the changes that the overall bill makes to the college loan process and the overall package does not increase federal deficits.

Supporters are urged to call their members of congress in support of the bill. CWLA and many leading child care organizations including the National Women’s Law Center and the National Association for the Education of Young Children have endorsed the new program. To reach your member of Congress, call the main Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative. Callers should tell their representative to support Early Learning Challenge Fund included in H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, because the bill supports critical quality improvements for young children.

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Ways and Means Committee To Hold Fostering Connections Oversight Hearing

On Tuesday, September 15, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support will hold a hearing on the Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008 (PL 110-351). The act was signed into law on October 7, 2008, and after nearly a year, the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee--which was instrumental in the bill’s enactment--wants to review what progress has been made to date. CWLA will testify at the hearing, joining several states and other representatives, including representatives from Native American communities, who can speak to significant parts of the new law. The subcommittee is likely to hear about the slow roll-out of the new law, due to several factors: many parts of the law will be phased in, the recession has slowed opportunities for states and state decisionmaking, and the transition of presidential administrations has taken time due to the slow congressional approval process. CWLA and many other organizations have created a website resource page. CWLA is also currently holding a series of roundtables around the country to better educate CWLA members and others on the provisions of the law, find more details online. We will provide a detailed report on the subcommittee hearing in next week’s Children’s Monitor.

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Fewer Uninsured Children, but Overall Uninsured and Poverty Numbers Increase

The Census Bureau’s annual income, poverty, and health insurance coverage data for 2008 last week indicated that while the number of uninsured children fell, the overall number of uninsured Americans increased. In 2008, 7.3 million children in the country did not have health insurance, an 800,000 decline from the 8.1 million children in 2007 who went without health coverage. Many attribute this to many states’ recent expansions of strong public programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was reauthorized and strengthened early this year with more funding. Not all was good news, however. The Census Bureau numbers show that in 2008, the overall number of uninsured Americans rose to 46.3 million from 45.7 million in 2007, placing even higher emphasis on passing comprehensive health reform this year. In addition, the poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent in 2008, the highest level since 1997. Median household incomes dropped 3.6 percent, a true indication of how much families are struggling these days. The poverty rate for the most vulnerable families (female-led, minority, etc.) remained stagnant. According to a Brookings Institution report that came out last week, the poverty rate for all persons is expected peak out in 2011-2012 and decline steadily over the following seven years. With the recession expected to have worse implications in 2009, it will be important to continue to monitor the correlation between poverty, employment, income, and the uninsured.

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Harkin to Chair Senate HELP Committee

With the unfortunate passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), there have been some notable changes in Chairmanship of a couple Senate Committees. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) was next in line to be Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, but passed up the opportunity to chair HELP in order to remain chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. This leaves Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, to chair the important committee, which has jurisdiction over several issues key to the well-being of children and families including health reform, child care, Head Start, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and education programs.

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Securing Housing Services for Youth in Transition

The National Foster Care Coalition held a forum on the need for improved housing services and resources for youth transitioning from foster care. In some states, children who do not have adequate housing or are found to be homeless are often reported as neglected and thus removed from their homes and placed into foster care. Children substantiated as neglected constitute over 50% of the foster care caseload. Each year thousands of youth exit care and many are at risk of experiencing homelessness at one point in their lives. Panelists included congressional aides; advocates from the housing, homeless, and foster care fields; and representatives from the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The advocates described the landscape of the programs available for youth who are in need of housing services after foster care. The housing platform that was presented at the forum stressed the importance of providing housing for youth who are leaving care and are at risk of becoming homeless, the need for flexibility, expansion, and clarification of current federal legislation to include homeless youth who are in need of supportive services, as well as providing financial incentives to states who extend foster care to youth after age 18, and increasing funding for programs like the Family Unification Program, the Chafee Independence Program, and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program. Officials from HHS, HUD, and congressional staffers encouraged advocates to continue to working to bring forth ideas that will strengthen current policies and programs.

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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 for the House of Representatives (Senate TBA)

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