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

   
   
Vol. 23, Issue 34: 12/6/2010   
Headlines

Congress Finishes Child Nutrition Legislation

CAPTA Advances in Senate Committee

Lame Duck Extends CR, Moves Closer to Budget Decisions

Fiscal Commission Releases Final Report

Work Continues to Develop Consensus Finance Reform Proposal

CWLA Seeks Frontline Worker Input

New GAO Report on Improving Children's Access to Dental Services

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Congress Finishes Child Nutrition Legislation

On Thursday the House approved for final passage the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) by a vote of 264 to 157. The President was expected to sign the bill into law quickly. The legislation includes increased reimbursements for school lunch, new national nutrition standards, and categorical eligibility for foster youth. The Administration strongly supported finishing the work on federal child nutrition and also to restore the cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP; or food stamps), which is included in the bill to offset some of the cost. At this time, it is unclear how the restoration will be accomplished.

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CAPTA Advances in Senate Committee

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Reauthorization Act of 2010 (S. 3817). The bill passed the committee unanimously during a brief mark-up session. The bill has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate and it is still unclear how and if the House plans to act.

The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Tom Harkin (D-IA). The bill includes the promotion of differential response and family group decisionmaking as best practices, an emphasis on approaches that address the links between both child maltreatment and domestic violence and child maltreatment and substance abuse, and an improved Community Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) program that will encourage the child and family voice in planning efforts. The bill also takes steps to enhance research on how to prevent child abuse and neglect in tribal families and expands the involvement of tribal leaders in an advisory role.

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Lame Duck Extends CR, Moves Closer to Budget Decisions

The lame duck session of Congress moved closer to final decisions on taxes and the federal budget. Intense negotiations took place last week and will continue this week. Last Wednesday a temporary extension of the continuing resolution on the budget was approved which keeps federal funding at current levels through the end of next week. The White House and leaders in the Senate and House will likely keep negotiating through that time.

Last week the House and Senate both passed another short-term continuing resolution (CR) designed to keep government agencies and programs running, this time through December 18. The previous CR had been scheduled to expire December 3. Passage of the second CR buys Congress another two weeks to continue negotiating a longer term solution to the fiscal year 2011 budget as well as the extension of several programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). House and Senate appropriators continue to push for passage of an omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the year; however, it is unclear if they will be able to produce the number of votes to pass an omnibus bill. If those efforts fail, Congress may have to enact a long-term CR in order to avert any shutdown.

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Fiscal Commission Releases Final Report

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the bipartisan debt commission established by executive order by President Barack Obama, released its final report last week. Entitled The Moment of Truth, the report proposes a road map to reduce the federal deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax and entitlement reforms.

Importantly, the report states that one of the core principles of the federal government should be to continue to protect the truly disadvantaged through a "robust, affordable, fair, and sustainable safety net" and specifically mentions the importance of preserving mandatory spending programs targeting the most disadvantaged, including food stamps, unemployment compensation, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). It also reiterates support for a progressive tax code that protects those who are most vulnerable, including continuation of the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Some of the recommendations, however, could be troublesome, including the proposal to essentially freeze discretionary spending over the next 10 years, cap federal spending on health care, and achieve some cost savings through the Medicaid program.

On Friday, the commissioners voted on the final report. Under the rules establishing the commission, 14 of the 18 commissioners would have had to sign on to the final report in order to generate a required vote in Congress on its adoption. The final vote was 11 to 7 in favor, falling short of that threshold. No vote on the full report is therefore expected soon, however the collective expertise of the commissioners as well as the state of the country's fiscal situation ensure that its recommendations will be weighed heavily by Congress.

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Work Continues to Develop Consensus Finance Reform Proposal

The Partnership to Protect Children and Strengthen Families, a coalition of nonprofits, advocacy groups, and others dedicated to child welfare, held a meeting last Tuesday to continue its efforts to develop a finance reform proposal. There is general agreement on the broad goals of what finance reform should achieve, but some differences remain on specific details. The Partnership will next form several breakout groups focused on specific areas in need of refinement. These breakout groups will work on a smaller scale in finer detail in an effort to find consensus that can be reported back to the full group. A series of these meetings is expected to occur in January with a goal of developing a final, comprehensive finance reform proposal that would be ready for approval by month's end.

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CWLA Seeks Frontline Worker Input

As discussions continue in Washington on reforming federal refinancing of the child welfare system, CWLA has launched an initiative to ensure that the voice of frontline workers is in the mix. It is critically important to hear from all stakeholders, and frontline workers are uniquely positioned to enrich the discussion. Their direct work with children and families is enhanced or constrained by their relative time and access to resources. They are experts on the strengths and weaknesses of the service delivery system at the point it reaches vulnerable children and families or fails to support them.

If you are a frontline worker or direct supervisor, please consider taking an hour of your time to share your perspective. If you know of frontline workers who might be interested please share this information with them. Learn more about the project and register to participate, or contact Suzanne Ayer, CWLA Government Affairs Associate, with questions.

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New GAO Report on Improving Children's Access to Dental Services

The Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA) requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study children's access to dental care. Recently, the GAO examined state reported dentist participation and the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Insure Kids Now website for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The GAO found that obtaining dental care for children in Medicaid and CHIP remains a challenge, with many states noting that few dentists are willing to treat Medicaid or CHIP patients. Data from 2008 shows that less than 37% of children in Medicaid received any dental services under that program and that several states reported rates of 30% or less. In addition, while HHS's Insure Kids Now website provides information on dentists who serve children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, the website contains incomplete and inaccurate information.

The GAO recommended improving the Insure Kids Now website as a way to ensure that children and families have the adequate information needed to obtain care in a timely manner. This recommendation is consistent with recent efforts by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to encourage participation from local communities and government entities to raise awareness about the tools available on the website and ultimately get more eligible children enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP. Full implementation of the Medicaid and CHIP provisions under the Affordable Care Act are essential to ensuring that vulnerable children and families do not experience disruption in coverage or limited access to care of any kind. In addition, while there are efforts underway to increase reimbursements to those providing dental care, Congress must continue to increase assistance to workforce programs that recruit and retain professionals in medically underserved communities.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

- December 17: Target date for last day of lame duck session.
- December 18: Continuing resolution on the federal budget expires.
- January 5: First day of the 112th Congress.

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