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

   
   
Vol. 22, Issue 37: 10/12/2009   
Headlines

Finance Committee Health Bill Shows Budget Surplus

Brookings Releases New Preventing Child Maltreatment

HUD Announces Grants for Child Welfare Families and Youth Aging Out

Views Differ on Safety Net Response During the Great Recession

Samuels Hearing Delayed Again

Congress Continues Work on Appropriations

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Finance Committee Health Bill Shows Budget Surplus

Late Wednesday, October 7, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its analysis of the Finance Committee health insurance bill, the America's Healthy Future Act, and calculated that the total cost of the legislation would be $829 billion over 10 years. More significantly the analysis or "budget score" not only would be paid for by changes enacted by legislation, but would also reduce the deficit by $81 billion over the same 10-year period. Both figures are higher than the bill that was originally presented to the committee at the start of the debate. A week earlier the Finance Committee finished amending the legislation. While a vote had been anticipated last week it was delayed further, perhaps out of deference to Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who appears to be the only Republican on the Finance Committee who may vote for the bill in committee.
Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) hailed the CBO report while Republican Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Kyl (R-AZ) denounced the legislation and the calculation.

While the Finance Committee waited, initial discussions were starting in the Senate between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other key senators on both the Finance and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees on just how to combine to two senate bills. That will be the next step after the Finance Committee votes out its bill. Reid will have the challenging task of combining both bills while keeping the majority of his caucus intact. Perhaps one of the most significant decisions is how to deal with the public option provision, which is in the HELP bill but not in the Finance bill. During the Finance Committee debates, the committee rejected 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 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 remains. Another provision that was included in the Finance bill as a result of an amendment is a requirement to continue the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a change that appears to generate cost savings in the bill.

On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was convening leaders and all members in discussions on how to merge their three bills. She too will be challenged on how to combine controversial parts of the legislation while keeping a majority of House Democrats on board. As a result, the Democrats have been holding a series of caucus meetings to debate the bill. Meetings were held on Wednesday and Thursday, with additional discussion due this week. One advantage Pelosi has is the structure of the House, where it is possible to vote out a bill on a majority vote with no possibility of filibuster. The House anticipates debating their bill late in October, perhaps while the Senate debates its bill.

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Brookings Releases New Preventing Child Maltreatment

On October 1, 2009, Brookings Institution in conjunction with Princeton University held a forum to release a new issue of Preventing Child Maltreatment, a journal which is part of their The Future of Children project. The forum featured Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) and former Representative Nancy Johnson (R-CT). McDermott spoke to the importance of preventing maltreatment based on his training as a child psychologist, and on the need to keep children with their birth families when possible. He also mentioned his legislation on home visiting that was included in H.R. 3200, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.

The second panel included Robert Gordon, from the Office of Management and Budget, and David Olds, founder of the Nurse Family Partnership. Together they discussed research and evaluation of various prevention models, including the home visitation program. They also discussed the current legislation, and Gordon expanded on President Barack Obama's commitment to quality home visitation programs. Common themes emerged, including the importance of evidentiary standards, encouraging innovation, and ensuring fidelity when attempting to scale up a program that may only have proven outcomes when working with targeted populations. There were varying opinions as to how to frame home visiting as a model to meet the most needs and produce the best outcomes. Questions that remained unanswered centered mainly on populations to be served, program goals, and outcomes.

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HUD Announces Grants for Child Welfare Families and Youth Aging Out

In late September, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced $20 million in housing resources that are now available to public housing authorities nationwide. Approximately 1,940 vouchers will be available to public housing authorities through HUD's Family Unification Program (FUP), which would provide rental assistance to families who are separated, or at risk of being separated from their children because of homelessness or inadequate housing. According to statistics from the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW), it costs more than $48,000 annually per family when children enter foster care, as opposed to $15,000 for housing and services to keep a family together. In addition, this funding is available to help provide stable housing for young adults (ages 18-21) who have aged-out of the foster care or left after age 16. Individuals and families must be certified as eligible for FUP and referred to a local public housing authority by a public child welfare organization.

HUD also announced that they are providing immediate funding for 11 public housing authorities who submitted qualified applications for 2008 funding, but were not awarded grants because all available funding was expended. HUD has posted the full Notice of Funding Availability. Applications are due December 3, 2009.

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Views Differ on Safety Net Response During the Great Recession

On Thursday, October 8, the House Subcommittee on Family and Income Security held a hearing on "The Safety Net's Response to the Recession." At the hearing there was more of a divide among subcommittee members than the panelists. Chairman Jim McDermott (D-WA) in his opening remarks emphasized that the hearing was intended to "assess the response of our public assistance programs to the rise in joblessness and poverty brought on by the recession." He highlighted his concern over the increasing numbers of unemployed and the increase in the national poverty rate. For his part, the subcommittee's ranking member, Representative John Linder (R-GA), highlighted a chart that he submitted labeled the "Obama Misery Index" which combined the unemployment rate along with the public debt. He then criticized the stimulus package for not being effective.

The subcommittee also heard from Ishmael Ahmed, Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services; Georgia state senator Chip Rogers; Virginia Lodge, Commissioner of Human Services from Tennessee; Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute; and LaDonna Pavetti from the Center on Budget Policy and Priority. Ahmed discussed the enormous pressure that state of Michigan has been under with unemployment now topping 15%. Not surprisingly Michigan has also seen a spike in poverty rates, with overall poverty at over 14% and child poverty over 19%.

Part of the hearing included some gentle debating between some members and panelists. Rogers denounced the stimulus package and highlighted how the state legislature had just passed one of the largest capital gains tax cuts in the country and that such policies where the best remedy for what ails the economy. He was challenged by Representative John Lewis (D-GA) who read off a list of stimulus funds that the state of Georgia had accepted and asked him about why the state had done so if there was opposition to the package. Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL) also challenged economist Mishel on the organization's earlier projections on the economy and why they had underestimated the rate at which the unemployment rate would top out.

Pavetti made several suggestions in regards to future policy decisions including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. She indicated that preliminary studies by the Center showed that in the 45 states they examined, TANF case assistance caseload had actually decreased in 11 states despite the dire economy, and caseloads remained the same in seven states. Caseloads increased by more than 15% in only five states: New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington. By contrast the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) has increase by 30% since the start of the recession. As part of her testimony, Pavetti indicated that TANF needed to be refocused on work support and safety net features as opposed to an emphasis on caseload reduction.

The testimony before the subcommittee is available online.

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Samuels Hearing Delayed Again

The Senate Finance Committee's confirmation hearing of Bryan Samuels for Commissioner of Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) within HHS was delayed again last Thursday. Samuels was formerly director of the CWLA member agency Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. As head of ACYF, he 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 as new head of the Administration on Children and Families on September 22, which is the critical department in HHS 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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Congress Continues Work on Appropriations

Last week, the Senate finished up on the Commerce, State, and Justice Appropriations bills. The Senate has to finish work on four more appropriations bills, which delineate separate funding for the Departments of Defense, the Interior, Transportation, and a combined bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Three bills have been conferenced with the House: Energy, Agriculture, and the Legislative Branch--which has also been signed into law.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

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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