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

   
   
Vol. 23, Issue 18: 5/24/2010   
Headlines

New Push for FMAP and TANF Extensions

Implementing the Fostering Connections Act Picks Up

New Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Holds Briefings

FY 2011 Budget and Appropriations Stagnant

Support Tax for Children and Families

Supreme Court Eliminates Life Sentences for Some Youth

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



New Push for FMAP and TANF Extensions

Last week the Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, legislation to provide critical tax cuts and support for American workers through the end of this year. The legislation, commonly referred to as the "extenders bill," would provide a six-month extension of the temporary increase in the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP), a federal matching rate for Medicaid, which was enacted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in response to the increased Medicaid caseloads and decreasing state revenues resulting from the recession. This extension is necessary since states are still in severe crises and considering major cuts to important services. The original increase is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2010 but the bill would extend these increases for six months, through June 30, 2011.

The bill will also extend the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) jobs and emergency fund to help states with increasing expenditures on basic assistance for families in the TANF program; short-term, one-time aid for needy families; and subsidized employment programs. This emergency fund is now scheduled to expire on September 30, 2010, but the legislation would provide $2.5 billion to extend this fund through FY 2011. In addition, the bill would support over 300,000 jobs for youth aged 16 to 21 through summer employment programs. This age group is suffering from a very high unemployment level.

The original legislation, the Tax Extenders Act of 2009, passed the House of Representatives on December 9, 2009. The Senate passed a similar package, the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act, as an amendment to that bill on March 10, 2010. Baucus and Levin worked with House and Senate leadership and their colleagues to merge these two packages into the new bill.

Download a summary of the legislation. Leaders in both the House and Senate have signaled that they anticipate bringing the legislation to the floor prior to the Memorial Day recess.

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Implementing the Fostering Connections Act Picks Up

Passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law on October 7, 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (Fostering Connections) made critically important changes to improve the lives of children, youth, and families affected by the nation's child welfare system. The new law aims to promote permanency and improved outcomes for children in foster care through policy changes in six key areas: (1) support for kinship care and family connections, (2) support for older youth, (3) coordination of health services, (4) improvements in educational stability and opportunities, (5) incentives and assistance for adoption, and (6) direct access to federal resources for Indian tribes. The new law also increases federal reimbursement (up to 75%) and expands the allowable costs for Title IV-E training.

The legislation is a decisive step forward for our most vulnerable children. However, it is only a first step. It is vital to focus energy on ensuring proper implementation. There are several new resources that further this goal. The Fostering Connections Resource Center brings together networks of federal, state, and local stakeholders who will share tools, information, and provide ongoing expertise. There are literally dozens of organizations contributing to this effort in addition to CWLA. Implementation information is available for each of the areas listed above. Updates are added continuously, and in some instances state specific breakdowns are available. A tremendous amount of data and information has been added in recent weeks. It is a superb resource for all who are involved with implementing this important new law. CWLA will continue to work toward swift and effective implementation. We encourage all to take advantage of these resources in your own work.

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New Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Holds Briefings

Led by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the newly formed Senate Caucus on Foster Youth recently held two briefings advancing awareness and action in observance of May as National Foster Care Month. The briefings focused on older youth in care, or transitioning out of care, the challenges they face, and promising approaches to better meet their needs.

On May 17, Linda Spears, CWLA Vice President for Policy and Public Affairs, joined other expert panelists in a roundtable discussion that focused on the challenges. Grassley opened with remarks about the importance of permanency and support, and his remarks were followed by showing a trailer for a documentary, From Place to Place, about the lives of six young people who age out of foster care. The moderator of the discussion, Gary Stangler from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, invited former foster youth to share their reactions. The youth echoed the film's message by expressing a strong desire to belong to a supportive family. Furthermore, they shared that they would have been better supported through stronger peer, mentor, and adult relationships. They also conveyed dissatisfaction with treatment approaches that overly relied on labels and medication. Additionally, some of the youth took the opportunity to acknowledge advocates who helped them lead successful lives. Landrieu closed the discussion by sharing her empathy for youths who age out of foster care without a family. With tears filled in her eyes, Landrieu stated, "I am prepared to do anything legally on their behalf."

A May 12th briefing also featured opening and closing remarks by Grassley and Landrieu. Moderated by Kathi Crowe of the National Foster Care Coalition, panelists addressed policy solutions in the areas of employment, housing, financial security, education, and mentoring.

Howard Knoll of Casey Family Programs proposed guaranteeing specific job preparation supports and highlighted the potential for developing meaningful relationships in the workplace. Ruth White, formerly with CWLA and now leading the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare, discussed the intersection of housing instability and children entering and aging out of care, calling for both practice and policymaking collaboration to span systemic gaps. Howard Davidson of the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Children and the Law spoke about policies that ensure youth in foster care achieve financial security through identify-theft prevention and financial education. Kathy McNaught, also at the ABA, recommended better collaboration between educational and child welfare agencies. Professor Rosemary Avery of Cornell University spoke about continuously focusing on securing parental relationships while making better use of mentors. Finally, and most inspiring, three former foster youth spoke of their experiences in the child welfare system. Eric Lulow, Tasha Santos, and country music star Jimmy Wayne contextualized the need for solutions through their stories of struggle and ultimate success.

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FY 2011 Budget and Appropriations Stagnant

With Congress focusing most of its time and effort recently on the huge package of tax breaks, continued benefits for the unemployed, aid to states and higher Medicare reimbursements for physicians, it seems as if the fiscal year 2011 budget and appropriation bills have taken a back seat, at least for now. Last week, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said Democrats are exploring other options, including the possibility of using the upcoming war spending bill as a vehicle for setting a budget cap on the annual appropriations bills. The Senate Budget Committee approved its FY 2011 budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 60) on April 22, but it is almost certain that it will not come to the Senate floor for a vote if it appears that the House is not going to act on its own version.

In the House, Democrats have yet to write their version of the annual budget resolution, as leaders have not been able to bridge differences in the caucus over discretionary spending levels. House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey (D-WI), has said that he and some of his colleagues are willing to accept some cuts to domestic spending, which may likely include cuts to critical safety net programs, so long as defense programs also receive funding cuts, an idea that has not met the approval of some members in the caucus. Additional matters on the radar and expected to get some floor action prior to the Memorial Day recess include the consideration of a supplemental defense spending bill and financial regulatory reform.

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Support Tax for Children and Families

CWLA has partnered with other organizations to ask Congress to extend the tax credits for low-income working families. The Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and American Opportunity Tax Credit (for low-income college students) can make a real difference in providing income to millions of families, while also boosting the economy. We need Congress to act now because if they fail to do so, the tax credits will expire at the end of this year.

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) was created to help working families with the costs of raising children. It's worth up to $1,000 per child under age 17, depending on the family's earnings. According to the Tax Policy Center, the CTC is the largest tax code provision benefiting families with children, and if the current CTC improvements expire, 8 million children would lose their credit entirely, and an additional 10 million children would lose some of it.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a federal tax credit for low-income working families and individuals. It is intended to encourage work by supplementing low wages, reduce the tax burden on low-income workers, and help families with children make ends meet. In 2008, the EITC provided cash refunds to 24 million low-income working families, as a result of reducing and eliminating tax liability.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides a tax subsidy for college tuition costs in order to make college affordable. In 2009, this college tax credit was made partially refundable, in order to reach 3.8 million prospective college students who previously could not use the credit because their families' incomes were too low to qualify. In addition, it increased the maximum credit from $1,800 to $2,500, and allow the credit to be claimed for four years (up from the two years previously allowed).

View a sign-on letter and add your organization to the list of signatories. The deadline is June 4.

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Supreme Court Eliminates Life Sentences for Some Youth

On Monday the United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling that eliminated life sentences for youth without the possibility of parole, except in cases of murder. The 5-4 ruling by the Court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release. The ruling reaffirmed research that shows that youth can be rehabilitated and should be given the possibility of someday going home.

In the case, Graham v. Florida, the Court stated, "A state is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a non-homicide crime. ... What the state must do, however, is give defendants...some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."

The ruling will affect 129 cases around the nation, 77 of which are in Florida. The remaining cases are in Louisiana, Iowa, California, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia, Nevada, Oklahoma, and several in the federal system.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

May 31-June 4: Memorial Day recess
July 3: Target date for House to pass all 12 appropriations bills
July 4-9: Independence Day break
August 7: Target date for Senate to pass all 12 appropriations bills
August 9-September 10: Summer recess

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