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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 36: 10/5/2009   
Headlines

ACF Letter to State Organizations Limits Kinship Option on Fostering Connections

Senate Finance May Vote on Health Reform This Week

HHS Announces Fostering Connections Family Connections Grants

HHS Announces Tribal Title IV-E Planning Grants

Samuels Hearing Delayed to This Thursday

CHIP and Medicaid Outreach and Enrollment Grants Announced

Child Care Survey Shows Little Progress, but ARRA Funds Protecting Services

Davis Set to Reintroduce the Children's Budget Act

Congress Preparing For Long Fall Session

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



ACF Letter to State Organizations Limits Kinship Option on Fostering Connections

In a letter dated September 24, David Hansell, Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families (ACF) indicated to the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) that states cannot cover children in kinship arrangements previous to the enactment of the Fostering Connections to Success Act on October 7, 2008, through the new law's Title IV-E kinship/guardianship option. This past April, APHSA, the National Governors Association (NGA), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and the National Association of Counties (NACO) had asked ACF for a clarification on guidance that was issued in December of last year. The letter from the states pointed out that the instructions from ACF "do not allow states to incorporate current guardianship caseloads into the new program (kinship/guardianship option), even when such cases meet other criteria of the law." Last May, California also sent a letter to HHS seeking clarification and a broader interpretation from the December guidance. In that letter California said, "The Program Instruction allows states to claim federal funds for ONLY those children who are newly placed with guardians or who are in foster care and who exit foster care with a new guardianship agreement. This interpretation is problematic for states with existing kinship programs" (original emphasis). The California letter also pointed out that 27 other states had kinship programs previous to the new law and that they would likely find themselves in the same situation.

Hansell indicated that neither the Administration or the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had anticipated the costs of covering some of the current kinship care population and that the department could not go beyond the coverage in the law unless "expressly provided by Congress, such as in the treatment of waivers." Some states had kinship waiver programs in effect at the time of the law and are allowed greater flexibility. Last month, in testimony to the House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support reviewing the status and progress of the new law, CWLA highlighted this problem. CWLA urged "the Congress and the Administration to address the possibility that some of these current kin families would in fact be eligible for federal funding after a state has taken the guardianship option." The guidance in effect means that all children currently within kinship care arrangements would not be eligible for a new Title IV-E program with its greater support and that only children currently in formal foster care or entering formal foster care would be eligible for the new kinship program and benefits.

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Senate Finance May Vote on Health Reform This Week

The health reform spotlight shone on the Senate Finance Committee last week, as it continued to mark up draft health reform legislation released by Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT), the America's Healthy Future Act. Members of the Committee ushered through some of the more than 500 amendments that were filed to the Chairman's Mark, rejecting, withdrawing, or finding many of them out of order. Tuesday was a pivotal day, with the Committee rejecting amendments from both Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) to include some sort of public plan in the Committee's bill. Rockefeller's amendment would have included a public option whose provider reimbursement rates would be equivalent to that of Medicare for its first two years, while Schumer's took a slightly more moderate approach and would have the government negotiate rates with medical providers. With both public option amendments defeated, the Committee's co-op approach stands and public option proponents will have to wait until the bill is brought to the Senate floor to make their case again.

Regarding children's coverage, in addition to home visiting language already in the bill, the Senate Finance Committee added a therapeutic foster care amendment offered by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The amendment, which is identical to one currently in the House health reform bill, provides a basic definition of TFC and protects Medicaid reimbursement for the treatment contained in TFC. TFC provides intensive, individualized services in a community-based environment for children with severe mental and behavioral health needs. Before markup commenced, an amendment was added requiring that before children are moved from the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to the exchange, the Health and Human Services Secretary must certify that children's benefits and cost sharing would be equal or better and that states have the capacity to provide early periodic screening, diagnosis, and treatment wraparound coverage. This is related to the fact that the Senate Finance bill in its current form would not reauthorize CHIP and in 2013 when CHIP expires, would move CHIP beneficiaries into the newly created health insurance exchange. The House bill similarly does not reauthorize CHIP after 2013 and now contains language requiring the Secretary to certify that children's coverage, once moved to the exchange, is equal or better than their CHIP coverage.

The Senate Finance Committee hopes to vote on its legislation this week. The Senate Finance bill will have to be merged with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions bill that passed committee before the August recess. House leadership has not set a deadline for bringing health reform legislation to the House floor. The House health reform bill, H.R. 3200, has passed each of the three House committees of jurisdiction--Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor--but currently the committee versions differ and have to be reconciled. Behind-the-scenes negotiations are taking place, attempting to reach consensus on legislative language--but a thin line must be walked in order to appease moderates and not lose more liberal votes.

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HHS Announces Fostering Connections Family Connections Grants

Last week, the Children's Bureau announced its FY 2009 Discretionary Grant Awards for the first round of Family Connections grants. These awards range from $450,000 to $1,000,000 per year for up to 3 years. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351) authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue competitive matching grants to state, local, or tribal child welfare agencies, and private nonprofit organizations that have experience working with children who are in or are at-risk of entering foster care reconnect with family members. The grants can be used to fund activities in any of the following four areas: kinship navigator programs; programs utilizing intensive family-finding efforts to locate biological family and reestablish relationships; programs utilizing family group decision-making meetings; or residential family treatment programs. Total awards are annually set at $15 million with no less than $5 million for navigator programs. ACF awarded 24 grants, including six state grants to Hawaii, Oklahoma, Maryland, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Maine. Several state associations were also awarded. For more information on the Family Connections grants and a list of grantees, visit CWLA's Advocacy page.

Kinship navigator programs assist kinship caregivers in learning about, finding, and using programs and services to meet the needs of the children they are raising and their own needs, and to promote effective partnerships among public and private agencies to ensure kinship caregiver families are served. Intensive family-finding efforts utilize search technology to find biological family members for children in the child welfare system. Family group decision-making meetings for children in the child welfare system allow families to make decisions and develop plans that nurture children and protect them from abuse and neglect. The residential family treatment program enables parents and their children to live in a safe environment while offering substance abuse treatment services, children's early intervention services, family counseling, medical, and mental health services, nursery and pre-school and other services that are designed to provide comprehensive treatment that support the family.

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HHS Announces Tribal Title IV-E Planning Grants

Last week, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within HHS released the first 6 grants to tribes planning to draw down Title IV-E funds directly from HHS. The six grants went to: Tohono O'odham Nation, Sells, Arizona; the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, Pablo, Montana; the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Baraga, Michigan; Sac and Fox Nation, Stroud, Oklahoma; the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, Gardnerville, Nevada; and the Navajo Nation, Window Rock, Arizona. These are one-time grants of up to $300,000 for a two-year budget/project period to tribes, tribal organizations, or tribal consortia that are seeking to implement the Fostering Connections to Success Act (P.L. 110-351) provision that allows tribes to run their own Title IV-E funded foster care, special-needs adoption, and kinship care programs. The tribes will use the funds to develop a plan and submit it within 24 months. The funds are intended for costs relating to the development of data collection systems, a cost allocation plan, agency and tribal court procedures necessary to meet the case review system requirements under the Title IV-E law, or any other costs related to meeting any other requirement necessary for approval of a Title IV-E plan.

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Samuels Hearing Delayed to This Thursday

Presumably as a result of the Senate Finance Committee's markup of health care legislation, the Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing of Bryan Samuels for Commissioner on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) within HHS was delayed from last Thursday until this Thursday, October 8. Formerly director of the CWLA member agency Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, as head of ACYF, Samuels would administer the major federal programs supporting social services that promote the positive growth and development of children and youth and their families, protective services and shelter for children and youth in at-risk situations, and adoption for children with special needs.

The Senate approved Carmen Nazario on September 22 as the new head of the ACF, which is the critical department for child welfare and other vital children's programs. It includes not just ACYF and its oversight of child welfare programs, but also the Office of Family Assistance (child care and TANF), the Administration for Native Americans (Tribal issues), the Office of Child Support, Office of Community Services (Social Services Block Grant), Office of Head Start, and the 10 regional HHS Offices.

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CHIP and Medicaid Outreach and Enrollment Grants Announced

Last Wednesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $40 million in grants to 69 grantees in 41 states plus the District of Columbia for outreach and enrolling children eligible for either CHIP or Medicaid, but are currently uninsured. This money was approved through this year's reauthorization of CHIP. The reauthorization allows a total of $100 million for outreach and enrollment, with this $40 million being the initial allocation and $60 million to be released later. As specified in the law, grants were awarded to states with particularly high levels of eligible, but uninsured children and those with significant racial and ethnic disparities in coverage. Many of the grants were given to states suggesting multidisciplinary, community-based approaches to locating eligible children and enrolling them in Medicaid or CHIP. With the Census Bureau reporting earlier this month that in 2008, 7.3 million children were uninsured, these grants should be a significant, helpful step to ensuring that children get the health coverage they need. More information about these outreach and enrollment grants and a list of grantees is available on the HHS website.

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Child Care Survey Shows Little Progress, but ARRA Funds Protecting Services

On September 29, The National Women's Law Center released its annual update on national child care policy with a survey of all 50 states. Overall, the survey shows little has changed in state policy over the past year and that the few states that did change their child care policy became more restrictive by, for instance, raising the family income eligibility. Perhaps more significantly, the report concludes that most states did not advance but fell behind in one or more policy areas since 2001. This is not a surprising finding though, since there have been no significant increases in child care funding from FY 2002 through FY 2009. The one bright spot is that NWLC's report is one of the first to measure the economic recovery package's impact on child care. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided states with an infusion of $2 billion for a two-year period. The survey received information from 30 states on how they will spend the funds, and 20 states indicated that the ARRA funds have allowed them to avoid cuts in child care services and allowed states to reduce or avoid increases in child care waiting lists. The child care block grant is approximately $5 billion with states using an additional $3 to 3.5 billion of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. The TANF funding used for child care has actually decreased in recent years, so the ARRA funding was critical to states. The report by the National Woman's Law Center reviews income eligibility requirements, required copayments, the reimbursement rates, and state waiting lists.

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Davis Set to Reintroduce the Children's Budget Act

First Focus held a congressional briefing entitled, "Children in the Federal Budget" last week to unveil their Children's Budget 2009. The book covers over 180 federally funded programs that are aimed at enhancing the well-being of our nation's children and families. At the briefing, Congressman Danny K Davis (D-IL) said that he was set to reintroduce the Children's Budget Act. The Senate companion bill has yet to be reintroduced in this Congress. The bill would require Congress to include a detailed, separate analysis for the federal funding directed to children and children's programs.

Each year, First Focus publishes the Children's Budget to highlight the federal funding for both mandatory and discretionary children's programs and the level at which they are funded. This year's analysis included funding that was from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Although the total ARRA package was approximately $787 billion, only $144 billion went to children's programs. The report also concludes that less than 10% of all non-defense spending is allotted to children's programs. On a more positive note, under President Barack Obama's budget, children's programs saw roughly a 3.6% increase. Overall, funding for children's programs has decreased since the turn of the century. One important factor to remember is that flat funding children's programs results in a decrease in spending over time (as a result of inflation), so Congress should seriously consider increasing the federal investments in programs that directly affect the lives of children.

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Congress Preparing For Long Fall Session

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that there would not be a Columbus Day break this year with so much on the congressional agenda. The new fiscal year started last Thursday, with Congress having passed 6 of the 12 appropriations bills. One of those bills, the Legislative Branch appropriations, included a continuing resolution (CR) to run through the end of October. The House has had a target date of October 30 for adjourning, but the Senate has not announced a date. It is all-but certain that Congress will be around until Thanksgiving, and most likely deep into December. Reid indicated that the schedule as it stands now would mean 11 straight weeks during the fall session.

By comparison, in some years Congress has not even been in session during the Columbus Day or Veterans Day holidays. In addition to the health care debate which has been front and center, Congress must finish appropriations, work on and pass final regulation reform legislation, consider Senate passage of legislation dealing with global warming (it has already passed the House), and begin examining various other issues such as education that will likely not go beyond preliminary hearings. By week's end, the Senate was finishing up work on the 6 of 12 appropriations bills with 3 on their way to the President's desk. The 6 appropriations bills passed by the Senate include: Energy and Water, the Legislative Branch, Transportation-Housing, Agriculture, Interior-Environment, and Homeland Security. The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor-HHS) bill has not been voted on yet by the Senate.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

October 1: Start of federal fiscal year 2010
October 12: Columbus Day
October 15: Deadline for budget reconciliation instruction
October 30: Target adjournment date for the House of Representatives (Senate TBA)
November 11: Veterans Day
December 11: Hanukkah Begins
December 25: Christmas Day

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