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

   
   
Vol. 18, Issue 28: 7/25/2005   
Headlines

Subcommittee Cuts Funding for Child Abuse Prevention and Adoption

Legislation Offers Only Limited Funding and Strong Language on Head Start

Federal Consent Decrees Debated at Judiciary Hearing

Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on VAWA

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Subcommittee Cuts Funding for Child Abuse Prevention and Adoption

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has passed a FY 2006 funding bill that follows the White House and House-approved recommendations to freeze funding for many key children's programs. The Senate subcommittee bill, however, cuts funding in some key areas, including prevention and adoption.

The Senate subcommittee-passed bill reduces funding for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program by $9 million, bringing total funding to $395 million. States use these funds for adoption support, family preservation, family support, and reunification.

PSSF had been funded at $305 million through fiscal year 2001. In 2001, Congress passed legislation that would allow Congress to approve up to an additional $200 million in discretionary funds each year, in addition to the $305 million in federal funds that are guaranteed each year. Since 2001, however, Congress has never approved the full $200 million. Funding for PSSF peaked in 2004, at $404.4 million. Last year, funding for the program was cut by nearly $1 million.

The subcommittee also approved a cut for the Adoption Incentives Program, sometimes referred to as the adoption bonus, which awards states that have increased the total number of children adopted from foster care. The subcommittee recommended funding be reduced from $31.8 million to $22.8 million.

Two other sources of federal funding that support child welfare, the Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act state grants and the Adoption Opportunities Program, both received only level funding. The Senate subcommittee, however, did increase funding for the embryo adoption awareness campaign by $1 million, bringing the total for that program to $2 million.

The Senate did approve increases in other areas. Most of these funds were dedicated to increases in funding for health research and education programs.

More information about funding decisions for key children programs.

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Legislation Offers Only Limited Funding and Strong Language on Head Start

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee-passed bill that funds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did provide a limited increase of $31 million for Head Start for FY 2006. This increases funding to $6.8 billion. Due to limited increases in Head Start funding over the past four years, enrollments have started to decline.

The Subcommittee expressed strong concerns about issues being debated as part of Head Start's reauthorization. The Subcommittee report that accompanied the bill indicated that it did not provide an additional $45 million for Head Start, as requested by the Administration, to implement a pilot project to convert Head Start into a block grant in some states. The report also offered praise for efforts to improve literacy skills, but also cautioned against, "anything that would detract from the comprehensive nature of the program." The report also directs HHS to issue a report and to respond to recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticism of the controversial National Reporting System (NRS). NRS is a test HHS has started to experiment with. Advocates, including CWLA, have raised concerns over the test, its impact on Head Start children, and its use in evaluating programs.

The Senate subcommittee-approved appropriations bill also followed House recommendations on child care funding and provided a slight reduction in discretionary child care funding of $11,000, for a total of $2.08 billion. Child care funding has not received an increase since 2002.

Copy of the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee report.

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Federal Consent Decrees Debated at Judiciary Hearing

On July 19, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts held a hearing on federal consent decrees. The focus of the discussion was the Federal Consent Decree Fairness Act, S.489, which would place time limitations on the duration of consent decrees. Sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and 24 cosponsors, S.489 would allow defendants to request a modification or termination of the consent decree four years after it is originally agreed to, or after the election of a new state or local government official. The plaintiffs would have the burden of proving why the decree is still needed, and after 90 days of filing, if the court has not acted on the request, the decree would be terminated automatically.

Consent decrees are legal agreements enforced by courts entered into usually by state or local governments with parties who file the complaint. In most instances, a federal court oversees an agreement entered into by the parties. The basis for the action is frequently federal law or regulations. The targets of these decrees include a range of areas, such as child welfare, health care, environmental law, mental health, civil rights, and discrimination laws. The duration of these decrees depends on how many service areas the state must address, and its success in implementing the requirements of the decree.

Consent decrees have played a significant role in initiating statewide reforms within child welfare agencies. Several state statutes and comprehensive programs that serve the needs of children in the foster care system have been implemented as a result of consent decrees. According to CWLA's most current research, at least 22 states are under consent decrees that are monitoring child welfare agencies to ensure that children in the care of the state receive needed services.

Alexander spoke of the problems that long and outdated consent decrees cause to states, and that by placing term limits on consent decrees and shifting the burden of proof to the plaintiffs, S.489 "leave[s] policy decisions where they ought to be—in the hands of officials elected through the democratic process." Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) argued that requiring the court to act within 90 days was unrealistic and stated that he couldn't imagine why any plaintiff would settle if they were required to reprove their case after just four years of the original agreement. Because most cases resulting in costly decrees are based on federal law, he said Congress should fund federal legislative mandates or change the nature of federal laws, rather than using consent decrees as a "scapegoat."

Alabama Attorney General Troy King supported the consent decree restrictions, stating that attorneys involved in the RC consent decree, which governs Alabama's child welfare agencies, are paid by the state for monitoring areas outside the scope of the decree. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones argued against the bill, stating that the focus should be on the problems and causes that lead to litigation resulting in consent decrees, rather than trying to change the decrees themselves. Although Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Charles Schumer (D-NY) appeared briefly to give a short statement, Subcommittee Chair Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was the only subcommittee member present to hear all eight witnesses.

Alexander stated his desire for Congress to consider this legislation alongside the Medicaid reform package this fall. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held a hearing in June on an identical bill, H.R. 1229. No further mark up or vote has been scheduled on either bill. Written copies of the testimony and the bill are available online.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on VAWA

On July 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA). Witnesses included Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Dianne Stuart, President of the National Sheriff's Association Ted Sexton, Actress Salma Hayek, and former NBA player and spokesperson for the Family Violence Prevention Fund, M.L. Carr. Carr's testimony focused on new provisions in the bill that focus on expanding services to children and youth, and piloting prevention programs, noting that children are by far the largest group of sexual assault and violence victims.

Both the Senate and House plan to vote on legislation (S. 1197 and H.R. 2876) to extend VAWA, which is set to expire in September. Bipartisan reauthorization bills have been introduced by Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and by Representatives Mark Green (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI). Additionally, House Judiciary Chair F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is expected to introduce a Judiciary-only version of the bill within the next week. Both S. 1197 and H.R. 2876 contain provisions to reauthorize and expand existing programs related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. These efforts, typically focused on adults, would be accessible to youth and children ages 12-24.

Both S. 1197 and H.R. 2876 would authorize approximately $4.5 billion over five years, a $1.2 billion increase from the current level. Most funding would go to law enforcement efforts. CWLA strongly supports the effort to expand VAWA services to children and youth and maintains it is crucial to more effectively address issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. CWLA has joined onto a sign on letter urging Congress to complete action this year.

More information...

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

July 30-September 5: Summer Congressional Recess

September 16: Deadline for assigned committees to adopt $35 billion in cuts to mandatory programs for budget reconciliation bill

September 23: Deadline for tax-writing committees to adopt tax cuts of $70 billion

October 1: Start of federal fiscal year


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