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

   
   
Vol. 24, Issue 4: 2/7/2011   
Headlines

House Leaders Propose $40 Billion in Cuts

Memo Details Free Lunch for Foster & Kinship Children

Court Ruling Paves Way for Unsuccessful Senate Health Care Repeal Vote

Study Confirms Children's Health Coverage Still Needs Work

HHS Provides Grants to Support Medicaid, CHIP Enrollment

CWLA Hosts Education Forum in Philadelphia

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Leaders Propose $40 Billion in Cuts

As mentioned in last week's Monitor, the House will take up its version of the final continuing resolution (CR) to fund government agencies through the end of fiscal year 2011 during the week of February 14. The version that will be brought up for a vote is expected to cut $40 billion from last year's non-defense, discretionary funding levels while adding $8 billion in defense funds for an overall cut of $32 billion. Compared to President Barack Obama's proposed budget, it is a $58 billion cut. While the details are still being worked out as of this writing, housing, education, and health care programs all stand to be significantly reduced under the House plan. It is possible that cuts could go deeper still, as Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has said that he will bring the bill up under an open rule and will allow amendments to be offered that would cut even more.

The Senate is expected to resist the major cuts proposed by the House but has not yet announced when they might take up consideration of the CR. Notably, during his State of the Union, President Obama spoke in favor of a five-year freeze in funding levels, but he has also opposed deep cuts. The current CR expires on March 4 so the House, Senate, and White House will need to negotiate a final settlement by that point.

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Memo Details Free Lunch for Foster & Kinship Children

Following up on the enactment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Melissa Rothstein, acting Director of the Child Nutrition Division of the Department of Agriculture recently sent a memo to Child Nutrition Program regional and state directors explaining the free lunch entitlement for children in foster and kinship care.

The memo details the new categorical eligibility of children in foster and kinship care for the national school lunch program. In lieu of an application, the local education agency must obtain documentation from an appropriate state or local child welfare agency that the child has been placed in a caretaker household by a court. The memo encourages the establishment of formal mechanisms between schools and child welfare agencies to facilitate this certification, explains current action to notify child welfare agencies of the entitlement, and promises more information to follow in the form of a question-and-answer document.

Responding to these implementation measures, David A. Hansell, acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said, "These children [in care] are more susceptible to high poverty communities. Taking the approach of providing those children access to healthy, balanced, nutritious meals without limitations to income only shows our commitment in providing the best quality of life for many deserving children and their families."

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Court Ruling Paves Way for Unsuccessful Senate Health Care Repeal Vote

Following a recent federal court ruling that the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) was unconstitutional, Senate Republicans pushed for a repeal vote similar to the one passed by their House colleagues last month. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the law was unconstitutional because Congress lacked the power to impose penalties on individuals as a way to enforce purchase of insurance coverage. To date, two federal judges have ruled to uphold the individual mandate, while two have ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional. Immediately following the ruling, opponents of the law came out in defense of the judge and the ruling.

However, Congressional Democrats and the White House remained confident that there is no chance that the ACA would be repealed. Senators on both sides of the aisle spent much of Wednesday on the House floor debating the constitutionality of the law. While Republicans largely focused on the need to listen to the American people who want the law repealed, Democrats praised the merits of the law while recognizing that there is certainly room for improvement, all of which they argued can be accomplished without repealing the current law. Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) maintained that repeal in the Senate was not going to succeed despite the fact that all of the Republicans vowed to support repeal, because they lacked the 60 votes needed to pass a final vote. Late Wednesday evening, Senate Democrats succeeded in blocking a vote to repeal the ACA. The amendment failed by a vote of 51 to 47.

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Study Confirms Children's Health Coverage Still Needs Work

The Commonwealth Fund recently released The State Scorecard on Child Health System Performance, 2011, which examines states' performance on 20 key indicators, which broadly grouped include health care access and affordability, prevention and treatment, and the potential to lead healthy lives. The report highlighted the recent success of the Affordable Care Act and explained how the expansion of Medicaid will go far to reduce the number of low-income children and families who currently uninsured.

The study also found that children's access to services varied widely across states and geographical settings and that even during the most recent recession, lower achieving states were for the most part able to maintain children's coverage largely due to federal support of the stimulus of 2009. The policy implications listed in the report were largely based on the premise that all states had room for improvement. The report pushed for continued federal action to support state and community efforts for children and the need to build on the achievements of Medicaid and CHIP, which along with other public programs fund health care for more than one-third of the nation's children.

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HHS Provides Grants to Support Medicaid, CHIP Enrollment

On February 3, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it had awarded $40 million in grants to states, community-based organizations, school systems, and others to support their outreach and enrollment activities for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. The grants will help states further modernize and streamline their administrative systems, as well as create and implement school-based outreach strategies and approaches for identifying children who have historically been hard to reach. In December, HHS announced that 15 states would share bonus payments for significantly increasing enrollment of uninsured children in Medicaid.

To mark the second anniversary of the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA), HHS released its 2010 CHIPRA Annual Report. In the report, which accompanied the announcement of new grant funding, HHS reported that in the last fiscal year alone, over 2.2 million children had enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. Cindy Mann, Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations/Survey and Certification within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, noted that Medicaid and CHIP now serve more than 42 million children. This report and the report by The Commonwealth Fund (see article above) show that CHIP and Medicaid have proven to be significant safety nets during these tough economic times. In fact had it not been for these two programs, millions more children would go without critical health care services, Mann concluded in the report.

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CWLA Hosts Education Forum in Philadelphia

Last week, CWLA hosted a convening focused on improving the educational outcomes for children in foster care, bringing together providers and other experts in the field, administrators from the local, state, and national government, and other advocates to share strategies from both policy and procedural standpoints. Presenters included representatives from the City of Philadelphia and its Education Support Center, the State of Florida, and Commissioner Bryan Samuels of the federal Administration on Children and Families.

The convening helped highlight a number of successful approaches, including methods to foster more improved interagency collaboration between the child welfare and education agencies, improve data collection and sharing, involve all actors of the system more actively in a child's educational progress, and revise current federal laws to bring more accountability to the system for the academic achievement of foster children along with new resources to make that happen. As a follow up to the convening, CWLA will soon be preparing a summary of the lessons learned that can help guide the system to more effectively assist children in foster care in school.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

- February 14: President releases proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.
- March 4: Continuing Resolution on FY 2011 expires.
- March 29: CWLA Advocacy Day during the National Conference.

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