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

   
   
Vol. 24, Issue 9: 3/14/2011   
Headlines

Budget Impasse Continues as March 18 Deadline Looms

These Cuts Won't Heal: Budget Webcast Today

Senate Finance Committee Hearing on Child Welfare Waivers

Looming Budget Cuts Pose Real Threat to States

Energy and Commerce Continues Hearings on ACA

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Budget Impasse Continues as March 18 Deadline Looms

Last week the Senate voted on two separate continuing resolutions (CRs) that would have provided funding through the remainder of fiscal year 2011, but neither proposal garnered a majority, let alone the 60 votes needed for passage with the threat of a filibuster looming. First up was the House-passed CR cutting about $57 billion from current spending levels, which was defeated 44-56. Next the Senate voted on a CR constructed by Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee, cutting about $6.5 billion from current spending. It was defeated 42 to 58. Neither the House Republican nor Senate Democratic plan received a single vote from a senator in the other party.

CWLA's Government Affairs team has created a chart comparing funding levels for a number of critical programs serving vulnerable children and families in the House and Senate plans.

Now that both the proposals have failed to pass the Senate, negotiations between the House, Senate, and White House have resumed. Those negotiations are expected to take weeks as the parties are currently about $50 billion apart in their budget baselines, meaning another short-term CR needs to pass to avert a government shutdown. The current CR the government is operating under expires this Friday. At the end of last week the House leadership was drafting another short-term CR, which should extend the deadline for another three weeks while cutting $6 billion from current spending, consistent with House Republican demands that $2 billion be cut per week. Among the $6 billion in cuts is a troubling $91 million cut to juvenile justice programs. The House is expected to pass the three-week CR tomorrow and send it to the Senate.

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These Cuts Won't Heal: Budget Webcast Today

As part of the CWLA budget campaign, These Cuts Won't Heal, the Government Affairs Division will host a series of members-only webcasts. Registration is open for the next webcast, which will be today at 3 p.m. Eastern. This webcast will include details of the proposed cuts in the latest House proposed CR. The webcast will provide the latest updates on the federal budget debate, highlight upcoming votes, and discuss which members of Congress may be most in need to hearing from child welfare advocates.

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Senate Finance Committee Hearing on Child Welfare Waivers

Last Thursday the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on child welfare waivers. Waivers are legislatively authorized and administratively approved interruptions of federal regulation to allow states more flexible use of a particular funding stream. Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) initiated the hearing to highlight successful innovation and foster care program alternatives resulting from past child welfare waiver demonstrations.

Baucus was joined by ranking member, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and committee members Senators Ron Wyden (R-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Thomas Carper (D-DE). The committee heard testimony from Charlie McNeely and Jojo Murdock, two young adults who discussed their experiences in the foster care systems. Together, they highlighted the need for stronger prevention resources and a strengthened focus on kinship connections for youth in care. Crystal Ward Allen, the executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, testified about Ohio's positive experience with waivers. Ohio's 42% reduction in foster care placements are attributed to waiver-enabled projects and approaches including settlement houses, educational partnerships, multisystemic therapy, foster parent supports, and kinship programs. Finally, William Bell, President and CEO of Casey Family Programs also pointed to the success of waivers in states like Florida as he stressed the need for strengthened social services amidst tightening state budgets. Throughout the hearing, panelists and senators pointed to the need for larger child welfare finance reform. While there was much support for legislation authorizing new waivers, it was framed as an intermediate step.

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Looming Budget Cuts Pose Real Threat to States

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) enacted in February 2009, included additional assistance for states in the midst of a recession. This funding helped reduce the extent of state spending cuts, but only for a two-year period. In August 2010, Congress extended the enhanced federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for six months through June 2011 and added $10 billion in assistance.

The additional assistance is set to expire in the coming months and 44 states and the District of Columbia are projecting budget shortfalls for FY 2012, which begins July 1, 2011 in most states. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as a result of these shortfalls at least 46 states are considering reducing services to their residents, including some of their most vulnerable families and individuals. Taking the projected budget shortfalls together with looming cuts, states are facing a real threat in terms cuts to resources and services. As budget negotiations continue (see article above) and Congress approves more cuts, states will also have to make decisions about what services receive funding and at what levels.

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Energy and Commerce Continues Hearings on ACA

While the CR remains the number one task of members of Congress, the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Fred Upton (R-MI), and his colleagues remain dedicated to repealing, replacing, and defunding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On March 7, the committee released a memo to the Subcommittee on Health, outlining five provisions in the ACA that if converted from mandatory to discretionary, would enable Congress to conduct its oversight role and set spending priorities. Cuts to two of the provisions would pose seemingly negative consequences for children and youth.

Section 4101 of the ACA authorizes the Health and Human Services Secretary to award grants to support the construction of school-based health centers. The law provides $200 million in direct appropriations for the period of FY2010 to FY2013, which the Committee proposes eliminating. The ACA also includes the creation of a grant program for school-based health centers to provide health care services subject to annual appropriations. While the committee does not outright object this provision, they believe it duplicates an earlier discretionary grant program.

Section 2953 of the ACA provides formula grants to states for personal responsibility education programs. These programs educate adolescents on abstinence, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted infections, financial literacy, parent-child communication, healthy life skills, adolescent development targeting at-risk populations including, homeless, foster care, teen parents, youth with HIV, and other vulnerable persons. The committee recommends converting the appropriation into an authorization so Congress can determine funding through the normal appropriations process. They also believe this provision may duplicate existing government programs.

Both of these grant programs provide valuable services to children, youth, and families. While millions of children remain uninsured or underinsured, it is important that Congress remain committed to protecting health of the nation's most vulnerable. Public programs play a vital role in the lives of low-income children and families and have contributed to the decline in the number of uninsured as well teen births.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

- March 18: Continuing resolution expires.
- March 21 to March 25: Congressional Recess.
- March 29: CWLA Advocacy Day during the National Conference.

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