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

   
   
Vol. 23, Issue 10: 3/22/2010   
Headlines

Health Reform in the Final Stretch

Representatives Introduce Bill for Medicaid Rehab and TCM Services

Senate Hearing on Foster Care in DC

Action on Access to Healthy Food for Foster Children, Low-Income Families

Reauthorization Discussion on Elementary and Secondary Education Act Begins

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Health Reform in the Final Stretch

This week Congress continued its efforts to get comprehensive health reform across the finish line. CWLA has joined with hundreds of other national organizations to call on Congress to vote "yes" for health reform. At press time, the House leadership was discussing holding a vote on the health bill on Sunday, March 21. A delay in calculating the budget costs had pushed a vote beyond last Friday. Although there has been a great deal of talk about the legislation costing nearly a trillion over 10 years, it actually will reduce the federal deficit in that same time period by $130 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

As negotiations continued, House leaders had to make sure that the deficit saving in the first 5 years of the 10-year bill would exceed the Senate's original savings. Last week the House Budget Committee passed a health overhaul budgetary reconciliation measure. The next procedural step was to send that bill to the Rules Committee, where it was expected that the committee will replace the language that pertains to health reform with the bill the House wants to use to amend the Senate-passed health care bill.

Stay tuned for updates and to learn what you can do to make sure the work on health reform gets finished. While there was much discussion last week on whether their would be one or two separate votes cast on the health care legislation, either way an affirmative vote by the House on the health care package will send the original Senate bill to the President for his signature while the reconciliation piece would go to the Senate for their debate and approval. The reconciliation bill would make the changes negotiated between the White House, the Senate, and the House. Once the House acts, the Senate can then debate the reconciliation. The Republicans are expected to try and knock out parts of that bill through points of order and other means. The Senate cannot filibuster a reconciliation bill but there has been speculation that opponents may offer an endless number of amendments to delay a final vote.

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Representatives Introduce Bill for Medicaid Rehab and TCM Services

Legislation has finally been introduced in both the House and Senate that would protect crucial rehabilitative and case management services. Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and John Sullivan (R-OK) recently introduced H.R. 4787, the Medicaid Services Restoration Act of 2010. This bill seeks to provide support and protection of vital services in three major ways. First, the bill would improve therapeutic foster care (TFC) by creating a Medicaid service category under which TFC services would be reimbursable. It would also protect rehabilitative services by clarifying that Medicaid will reimburse the medical services that children in psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers receive. Finally, this bill would support case management services by continuing to reimburse for such services offered by qualified buyers and easing the administrative burden on case managers by permitting states to use more reasonable and efficient payment methodologies. The companion bill was introduced last year by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Download CWLA's summary of the Medicaid Restoration Act.

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Senate Hearing on Foster Care in DC

On Tuesday, March 16, DC's foster care system was the subject of a hearing by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Chair of the subcommittee was joined by subcommittee member Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to hear testimonies from and ask questions of panelists regarding the DC Child and Family Services Agency's (CFSA) ability to secure permanency for abused and neglected children.

Dr. Roque Gerald, director of DC's CFSA, a CWLA member agency, gave the first testimony acknowledging recent CFSA failures to protect children in the widely reported cases of child deaths, but emphasizing current reforms enacted since becoming interim director following those events in 2008. Gerald spoke about achievements in reducing the backlog of child protective services investigations and reversing the decline in adoptions to achieve CFSA reform goals. Lee Satterfield, Chief Judge of the Superior Court of DC, then discussed the effects of the Family Court Act of 2001 that furthered initiatives including the "One Judge, One Case" model, the mayor's Services Liaison Office, and the establishment of court performance standards, among other best practices that work towards improving permanency outcomes. Both Satterfield and Gerald emphasized the high proportion of older foster youth and sibling groups in the DC child welfare system as underlying barriers to securing permanency for more children. In response, Landrieu suggested better comparisons of DC's operation and outcomes to cities of similar size and demographics, as well as improved use of technology and web information.

Advocates Judith Meltzer, Deputy Director at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, another CWLA member, and Judith Sandalow, Executive Director of The Children's Law Center, stressed the importance for DC to set more appropriate permanency goals that better reflect the need of DC's foster children rather than the capacity of CFSA. In addition to noting areas for improvement including removal decisions, family finding, and educational stability, both advocates suggested a stronger sense of urgency and specific, shared operational protocols as a crucial first step in improving permanency outcomes. Two children from DC's foster care system also offered testimonies that revealed a personal side to the struggles resulting from their long waits in foster care and the real fear of aging out without a supportive and caring adult in their lives. Landrieu pointed out that though tragic, these girls' stories are not unique. She further emphasized the need for child welfare funding to follow the children's needs and for creating stability wherever possible, particularly in education.

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Action on Access to Healthy Food for Foster Children, Low-Income Families

On March 17, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a legislative agenda to provide low-income children and families with access to nutritious food. Declaring that all children deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential, Gillibrand of the Senate Agricultural Committee introduced three bills aimed at increasing food standards and providing healthy food resources for those most in need. One bill of the legislation package, S.3128, would enroll all foster care children in the National School Lunch Program that provides daily nutritious breakfasts and lunches.

A second, S. 3127, would require the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program to be reviewed every 10 years by the Institute of Medicine to ensure the program meets current health and nutrition standards. The third bill, S. 3129, would lengthen the eligibility timing for WIC, requiring states to certify participants yearly instead of every 6 months. In addition to the Gillibrand action, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) released a draft of her proposal to reauthorize nutrition programs. The draft proposal, which may be debated in committee this week, would increase funding in child nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over 10 years. The Obama Administration is seeking a billion a year over 10 years.

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Reauthorization Discussion on Elementary and Secondary Education Act Begins

Last week the President unveiled his proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The latest version of the law, more famously referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act, was last reauthorized at the start of the George W. Bush Administration. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee last week and highlighted one of the major goals of the legislation, which is to improve and refine the way to target failing schools.

The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success Act (P.L. 110-351) included a number of mandates for child welfare agencies to follow in regards to education goals for children in care. Congress mandated that when a child is placed in care, and it is in the child's best interest, he or she be allowed to stay in the same school even if that child may no longer live within the school district lines. Conversely when a child must switch schools because it is in their best interest, the child welfare agency has to work with the school district to make sure that child is immediately enrolled in a new school. The law, however, places the mandate on the child welfare agency and not the school district, so there are instances where local schools are unaware of the mandate.

CWLA would like to see the same mandate placed on education agencies so that a more cooperative and successful school placement policy can be developed for all foster children. CWLA has issued a set of principles in regard to policies for children in foster care. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced the Fostering Success in Education Act, S. 2801, which would create the requirements and would also establish a program that would encourage state child welfare and state education agencies to collaborate on education policy as it effects children in care. CWLA has endorsed this bill.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

March 28-April 11: Spring break for Congress
April 15: Deadline to adopt budget resolution
May 15: House may begin passing regular appropriations bills
July 3: Target date for House to pass all 12 appropriations bills
August 7: Target date for Senate to pass all 12 appropriations bills


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