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

   
   
Vol. 23, Issue 31: 10/4/2010   
Headlines

Congress Passes Continuing Resolution, Adjourns Until After Elections

TANF Update

Child Welfare-Related Legislation Delayed

Partnership Continues Work on Child Welfare Finance Reform

New Legislation Encourages Family Engagement in Juvenile Justice

Administration Awards Funding for Pregnant, Parenting, and At-Risk Teens

Florida Adoption Ban Struck Down Again

Governor Signs AB 12 in California

CWLA is Moving!

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Congress Passes Continuing Resolution, Adjourns Until After Elections

On Wednesday the House and Senate both passed the Senate amendments to H.R. 3081, a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep government activities funded at current levels through December 3, 2010. The bill extends the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program temporarily. This included all the key elements of the program such as the block grant, child care grant, contingency fund, and supplemental grants, which will not expire while Congress is in recess. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the CR into law promptly. Passage of the CR allows Congress to adjourn until after the November 2 elections. Following the elections, Congress will reconvene in a "lame duck" session in order to complete the appropriations process, extend TANF and other expiring programs, and consider other legislation before adjourning for the year.

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TANF Update

On the topic of TANF, Legal Momentum led a briefing on Capitol Hill Thursday about the negative effects of sanctions on TANF recipients. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) both spoke at the event, along with representatives from Legal Momentum, the Columbia University School of Social Work, and Community Voices Heard, among others. Panelists and the members of Congress discussed the detrimental impacts TANF sanctions have had on families, the role that sanctions have played in reducing the rate of eligible families that are receiving benefits (currently estimated to be less than 40%), and the perverse incentive structure under current law that has encouraged states to strictly enforce and expand the use of sanctions. McDermott pointed out that TANF is not currently working as a counter-cyclical safety net program, given that the recession has driven more families into poverty, yet more than 30 states have seen a reduction in their TANF caseloads. He pointed to new Census numbers showing that 1 in 5 children in this country live in poverty, but that only 22% of children in poverty are receiving TANF benefits through their families. Moore stressed that focus should be placed on reducing poverty, not reducing the number of TANF recipients. A number of recommendations were discussed for the next TANF reauthorization, including banning full-family sanctions, repealing the five-year lifetime limit, and restructuring the incentive structure for states.

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Child Welfare-Related Legislation Delayed

The legislation to extend waivers for child welfare was not approved before Congress adjourned. The Senate did not act upon H.R. 6156, the bill sponsored by Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), which would reinstate the authority for states to petition the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement new innovative approaches to child welfare financing through a waiver of Title IV-E. It is possible that this bill could be taken up by the Senate when Congress reconvenes after the elections.

As reported in last week's Monitor, the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (S. 3817) was scheduled to be marked up by the Senate HELP Committee on Wednesday, September 29. However, due to a conflicting floor debate on health care reform, the markup was postponed because the committee would be unable to make a quorum. A rescheduled date has not been set.

Federal child nutrition reauthorization has also been stalled as Congress breaks for the elections. While the Senate version (S. 3307) passed with an offset from future increases in the food stamp program, supporting members of the House version (H.R. 5504) are still looking for alternative offsets to cover proposed increases and satisfy the current pay-go rules. The continuing resolution will keep child nutrition funding and related policies static.

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Partnership Continues Work on Child Welfare Finance Reform

CWLA is participating with other national organizations in the Partnership to Protect Children and Strengthen Families in an effort to develop child welfare reform proposals. Last week the IV-E workgroup met to continue deliberation on child welfare financing reform. The IV-E workgroup is discussing the pros and cons of various financing reform proposals that have been released to date while trying to develop consensus around a comprehensive plan. Priorities have been placed on preserving the individual entitlement and protection guarantee for children and providing more flexibility in how funds can be used while increasing funding for services and interventions that are proven to reduce abuse and neglect. More fine-tuning remains to be done on the workgroup's draft proposal to reach consensus among member groups, but important groundwork is being laid to achieve momentum toward legislating comprehensive finance reform during the next Congress.

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New Legislation Encourages Family Engagement in Juvenile Justice

Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced new legislation last Wednesday to encourage family engagement in juvenile justice settings. The bill, H.R. 6361, aims to strengthen relationships between youth held in detention facilities and their families. It authorizes grants to local and statewide nonprofit organizations to provide youth and their families more of a voice in how the facilities are run, and to improve relationships between youth and their families. The legislation seeks to encourage the facility's policies, procedures, and practices to improve communications between the facility and families, to improve visitation and contact policies, and to create more access to the facility for outside groups. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

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Administration Awards Funding for Pregnant, Parenting, and At-Risk Teens

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded two new grants created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Pregnancy Assistance Fund was created under the ACA to support pregnant and parenting teens throughout the country, helping them complete high school or postsecondary degrees and gain access to health care, child care, family housing, and other critical support. The Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Grant Program was created to help tribes develop and implement high-quality, culturally-relevant, evidence-based home visiting programs in at-risk tribal communities. Of the $27 million awarded under ACA for these grants, $24 million was awarded to 17 states and tribes through the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, and the remaining $3 million was awarded to 13 tribes, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations through the tribal home visiting program. The grants are expected to assist states in connecting families to health, education, child care, and other supports that can help brighten the futures of parents and their children.

In addition, the Obama Administration held a call last week to discuss the $155 million in grants awarded this week for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention initiatives. The awards came from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Fund and the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) and are being awarded to states, nonprofits, school districts, universities, and others who operate programs that replicate teen pregnancy prevention strategies that have been found through rigorous research to be effective and programs that test innovative approaches to addressing teen pregnancy prevention. Of the $155 million, $100 million goes towards competitive grants through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, and the remaining $55 million in a combination of formula grants to states and competitive grants were funded under the ACA via the PREP.

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Florida Adoption Ban Struck Down Again

The Florida statute banning adoptions by gay and lesbian parents has been ruled unconstitutional by the state's Third District Court of Appeals, upholding a 2008 ruling by the Miami-Dade Circuit Court. As reported in CWLA's Children's Voice, the law at issue (63.042(3)) prevented Martin Gill, a licensed Florida foster parent, from adopting two young boys who were thriving under his care.

Florida law allowed Gill to foster the abandoned and neglected boys who came into his care with serious medical and emotional challenges in 2004. However, it prohibited him from adopting them in 2006 when their parents' parental rights were terminated because he is gay. In 2008 the trial court agreed with Gill's petition that the law prohibiting him from becoming a parent was unconstitutional, because it violated Gill's equal protection rights under the state constitution. They also ruled that the children's right to permanency was violated under Florida's Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. The ruling cited a lack of evidence that there are any categorical detrimental effects on the well-being of children raised by gay or lesbian parents. Refuting the appeal's claim that there was a rational basis for the law banning gay and lesbian people from becoming parents, the Third District Court of Appeals also struck down the law as unconstitutional. Looking ahead, that ruling states that the issue is likely to be appealed further to the Florida State Supreme Court.

CWLA filed an amicus brief in the case, opposing the categorical ban on gay and lesbian adoptive parents in favor of screening on an individual basis. Furthermore, CWLA holds an official position that "lesbian, gay, and bisexual parents are as well suited to raise children as their heterosexual counterparts."

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Governor Signs AB 12 in California

Last Thursday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, into law. AB 12 would extend support services to foster youth until age 21 as long as they are working or attending school. Research shows that youth who receive support after age 18 are two times more likely to be working toward completion of a high school diploma, three times more likely to be enrolled in college, and much less likely to have been arrested. For every $1 invested by a state, there is an estimated $2.41 return on investment. Several CWLA members agencies, as well as many other groups and individuals, worked hard to get this legislation passed and the finally approved; thanks to all for their work. Schwarzenegger and the state legislature are also to be applauded for enacting AB 12.

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CWLA is Moving!

This past weekend, CWLA relocated to 1726 M Street NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20036. With the move there is the possibility that there may be disruptions in our communications, especially telephone and website. However, this is a great time to join the hundreds of people following us on Facebook and Twitter. These outlets might be the easiest way to get news about the new permanent telephone numbers at the new office, updates about the availability of our website, and more. If you haven't already, please join us on Facebook or Twitter and encourage others to do the same.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

November 2: Election Day.
Following the elections, Congress will reconvene in a "lame duck" session.

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