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

   
   
Vol. 24, Issue 17: 5/31/2011   
Headlines

Senate Rejects Several Budget Proposals

Senator Stabenow Leads Effort for Increased Mental Health Funding

DOE, HHS Announce Early Learning Challenge Funds

Special Wednesday Budget Webcast This Week

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Senate Rejects Several Budget Proposals

The Senate finally held long-awaited votes on several budget proposals last week, rejecting them all. The three votes demonstrated that the Senate remains a long way away from a resolution to the 2012 budget process, but importantly they also proved the cuts pushed by the House do not have the support of the entire Senate Republican Caucus let alone a majority of the Senate. The House-passed budget resolution, which rolls back discretionary spending levels severely and turns Medicaid and other means-tested programs into block grants, was rejected on a 40-57 vote with five Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the bill. A second budget proposal, put together by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) representing the Senate Budget Committee Republican plan that makes even deeper cuts without being as specific, was also rejected by a 42-55 margin. Finally, the budget released by President Barack Obama in February was voted on and was defeated 0-97, although its significance was marginal considering the President himself has put forth an updated and revised budget outline since February.

In the aftermath of the failed votes, and with Congress in recess this week for Memorial Day, the parties are expected to resume negotiating. Vice President Joseph Biden will continue to manage discussions with a group of Congressional leaders in an effort to find enough consensus on deficit reduction to authorize a short-term increase in the statutory debt limit, which is needed by early August. Meanwhile, five members of the "Gang of Six" have continued to meet after the departure of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) from the talks.

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Senator Stabenow Leads Effort for Increased Mental Health Funding

Last week Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter urging the Appropriations committee to provide a $14 million increase to the Mental Health Block Grant (MHBG) in the 2012 budget, which is consistent with President Obama's FY 2012 request of $435 million. This is the latest in her many efforts to secure increased funding for mental health services.

Over the last 4 years, states have been forced to cut more than $2 billion from mental health funding, while community mental health centers and other providers are simultaneously reporting a substantial increase in demand for mental health and addictions services. Advocates and law enforcement personnel spoke on Capitol Hill earlier this year regarding the impact that mental health cuts in the states were having on other services in the community.

The Mental Health Block Grant is the principal vehicle for financial support for evidenced-based, comprehensive services for low income and uninsured persons living with serious mental illnesses. It is also a source of funding for children with serious emotional disturbances in communities throughout the country. The MHBG funds are directed towards activities not easily funded by Medicaid. Finally, the grants provide a critical source of flexible funding for states to be innovative in providing essential, intensive community-based mental health services.

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DOE, HHS Announce Early Learning Challenge Funds

Last Wednesday, Secretaries Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius announced the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). The new initiative is funded out of recently finalized FY 2011 appropriations, in which $700 million was earmarked for Race to the Top. It will be jointly administered between the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Similar to Race to the Top, states will compete for funds, but by submitting comprehensive plans establishing high-quality, comprehensive, and integrated early learning programs. With the goal of increasing the number of low-income or disadvantage children (birth to five) in high-quality early childhood settings, $500 million will be available for these competitive grants. The remaining $200 million will be available to the nine finalist states that did not receive Race to the Top's first two rounds of funding. Those states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Carolina. All funds must be awarded by December 31, and RTT-ELC applications will be available later this summer. With the quick turnaround, rulemaking is being waived, but the Department of Education is asking for feedback.

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Special Wednesday Budget Webcast This Week

As part of the CWLA budget campaign, These Cuts Won't Heal, the Government Affairs Division is hosting a series of members-only webcasts, usually held on Mondays. However, due to Memorial Day, this week's webcast has been rescheduled for Wednesday, June 1, 3 p.m. Eastern. Tune in to receive an overview of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and the potential cuts to this important funding stream. CWLA members are invited to register.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

- May 30 to June 3: Senate recess
- June 6 to June 10: House recess
- June 27 to July 5: House Independence Day recess
- July 1 to July 11: Senate Independence Day recess

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